Borrowing is a costly exercise for individuals, households and sovereigns alike. For the latter, when one considers what some have called the “Moyane effect” on tax receipts, a volatile rand and weak growth, every rand borrowed has not only an economic growth impact but political dimensions as well. As the proverb suggests, he who pays the piper calls the tune. No other institution reminds us of this reality, than the views, recommendations and advice often provided by ratings agencies. Fitch, S&P Global and Moody’s, or as political economist Patrick Bond calls them, the “three brothers of Manhattan”, often focused on the ability of borrowers to repay loans. Those in support of their role in global capital markets suggest that the most important role for these agencies is overcoming market failures and information asymmetries between lenders, investors and issuers of debt. So it can be accepted in sovereign contexts that this role interfaces uncomfortably with public policy decision...

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