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Improving government practices in South Africa

In light of “‘tis the season to be jolly,” I’m going to focus on positive, forward-looking things when writing this month’s column, rather than the hyperpartisan politics negligently neglecting our national fiscal condition. I’ll revisit the other and its consequences in the nearly-here 2012.

When I wrote my last column, I was headed to spend three weeks of November in South Africa. As part of a small team of U.S. state legislators, I was sent to work with our counterparts on improved governmental practices, particularly related to increasing transparency and decreasing governmental corruption.

The trip was funded by a U.S. Department of State grant, administered by the National Conference of State Legislators. Our South African hosts also contributed to the costs and organizing of the trip, in the hopes of learning how to strengthen their fledgling democracy of only 17 years.

Since 1994 and leaving behind the former apartheid government and era in their country, South Africa has divided itself into nine provinces, functionally similar to states in the U.S. Globally, South Africa is considered the leader of the sub-Sahara African nations, but they struggle with significant governmental corruption that drains off 20 percent or more in misspent governmental funds.

In a country dealing with immense poverty and large regions and people still without adequate water supplies and electricity, this corruption is unacceptable to them as well as significantly hinders their international trade and business prospects.

Most of the current governmental leaders in South Africa were exiled or imprisoned prior to 1994, so their background and knowledge in governmental operations is understandably limited. However, they’ve got a national constitution that sets goals and ideals as high as those of the United States’ Constitution.

The pace of our trip was high speed with lots of ground to cover in four provinces. We began by listening and learning about existing South African governmental practices and then conducted a workshop for the provincial legislators, sharing our states’ best practices aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in government.

We started in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, then had nearly a week with legislators in the Free State, spent a few days in Cape Town and finished with our workshop in East London, Nelson Mandela’s home province.

As the U.S. team’s only Coloradan legislator, I shared our state’s practices regarding legislative ethics, campaign finance reform and open records legislation. I also took the opportunity to tell everyone of the beauty and benefits of Colorado life, trying to stir interest in increased trade and job opportunities for Coloradans. Significant similarities exist between Colorado and South Africa and I can imagine real benefits to both if we pursue them.

For instance, in southwest Colorado, we have a number of innovative small and medium sized businesses that could overlap with services needed in South Africa. Agricultural pursuits, tourism, wildfire mitigation, IT and energy development are some of these.

I came home with contact information and will meet with representatives of Colorado’s office of economic development and international trade. We live in a global economy and opportunities are out there, if we care to see and develop them.

Once home, I was interviewed by Colorado Public Radio, so if you’d like to hear more about my trip, visit www.cpr.org and scroll through the “Colorado Matters” link to find the interview.

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