Ka Wai Ola

Aloha mai kākou,

A recent state audit of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs comes at a critical time for the agency.

By raising questions about how OHA spends its money, the audit puts at risk efforts to steer much needed resources toward our people and communities. An audit is intended to help an organization shore up its foundation, deliberately shining a light on areas for improvement, rather than work well done. As fiduciaries of a public trust, this is valuable feedback and our trustees have already shared publicly how the agency is responding to the auditor’s recommendations. OHA’s administration takes direction from its board of trustees.

That’s part of the reason why the term “discretionary spending” is problematic. With the exception of trustee allowances, decisions on funding aren’t made in a vacuum. My administration can’t act independently when it comes to large expenditures – we turn to the board when opportunities arise. We can only made recommendations to trustees when it comes to matters like helping Hawai‘i host the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Congress, or bringing home the royal ‘ahu ‘ula and mahiole that belonged to Kalani‘ōpu‘u, a high chief of Hawai‘i Island in the late 1770s. Those decisions required board action and received near unanimous approval.

CEO sponsorships are capped at $25,000 but during the two fiscal years covered in the audit, only a third of the approved sponsorships exceeded $5,000. You can see the full list at www.oha.org and some of the largest CEO sponsorships are listed below.

Without nuance or context, expenditures listed the auditor’s report have led to questions about whether OHA’s spending benefits Native Hawaiians, and my unequivocal answer is yes. Our people have enormous needs and our agency has limited funds. Many of the questions coming from our beneficiaries are those we ask ourselves when we look at how we can maximize our resources to elevate our lāhui.

We know some of the links aren’t immediately obvious. For instance, the American Diabetes Association isn’t a Hawaiian-focused organization but Hawaiians are diagnosed with diabetes at more than twice the rate of other groups. It makes sense for OHA to sponsor the annual Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes to raise money to fight a disease that impacts such a large number of our beneficiaries. (This year’s fundraiser is on March 17.)

The rationale behind OHA’s sponsorship of an Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) conference in Washington, D.C. may need more explanation. APIAHF is a highly-regarded health policy group with substantial influence at the national level, but until a few years ago, Hawaiians weren’t part of their agenda. By partnering with APIAHF and stepping into a leadership role, we’ve amplified the voice of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders when advocating for our health needs.

The audit has made us more cognizant of the need to be accountable, responsive and responsible to our beneficiaries but rest assured, our people and our communities have always been top of mind.

CEO Sponsorships

  • Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum: Voices2015: Moving Health Forward national conference in Washington, D.C. – $25,000
  • Ho‘omau Ke Ola, Inc.: Project Aukahi o ka ‘Āina – $25,000
  • The Biographical Research Center: Production of “This Native Daughter” promotional trailer – $20,000
  • Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund: KU‘E: The Hui Aloha ‘Āina Anti-Annexation Petitions – $20,000
  • American Diabetes Association: Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes – $15,000
  • Halele‘a Arts Foundation: La‘iekawai performance for Kula Kaiapuni students – $10,000
  • Waimea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association: Hānau Ke Ali‘i performance touring Moloka‘i and Lānai – $10,000