A New Era at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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By OHA Board of Trustees Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey and Chief Executive Officer/Ka Pouhana Dr. Sylvia M. Hussey

This article was originally printed in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on April 26, 2022.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ decades-long fight to receive its fair share of Public Land Trust revenues was detailed recently in a Star-Advertiser editorial (“Sharper pencils, eyes on Office of Hawaiian Affairs funds,” Our View, April 21).

As Senate Bill 2021 SD1 HD2 continues to work its way through the Legislature, we invite everyone to focus on where the agency is today, and how we are managing the funds entrusted to us to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

This is a new era at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Our 2020-2035 strategic plan, Mana i Mauli Ola, responds to community input by focusing on the immediate needs of the Native Hawaiian people in the areas of education, health, housing, and economic stability – all on a foundation of strengthened ʻOhana, Moʻomeheu and ʻĀina.

There is new leadership across the organization, which builds on the efforts of all who have served this mission in the past. Over the last two years, we have welcomed a new chair of the Board of Trustees and a new chief executive officer, complemented by a new chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief advocate and land director, who all serve side by side with research, community engagement, communications and strategy management directors and staff who are focused on strategic plan implementation.

Trustees have implemented a new governance structure and policy framework and moved forward to activate and revitalize the 30-acres of waterfront properties in Kakaʻako Makai. We have reorganized the agency, reducing overhead costs, streamlining operations and redirecting resources to our beneficiaries and communities.

Our grant awards to community organizations increased from $6 million in 2006 to $16 million last fiscal year – a record for the agency. Our overall two-year fiscal biennium budget for grants and sponsorships has been set at $30.2 million – also a record for the agency – and up from the $24.5 million that was set for the last fiscal biennium.

Posted on OHA’s website, under “Quick Links, Financial Transparency,” readers will find 18 years of financial statements and audit information- from June 30, 2004, to June 30, 2021 – plus three years of single audits of the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund, completed by four independent audit firms. Each audit conducted by those independent firms opined an “unqualified” or “clean” opinion.

In May 2019, the Board approved the winddown of existing LLCs with only Hiʻilei Aloha LLC, parent of Hiʻipaka LLC dba Waimea Valley, still in existence. Waimea Valley is a peaceful and serene example of preserving and perpetuating human, cultural and natural resources.

It is our fiduciary duty to continue this fight for what is rightfully owed to the Native Hawaiian people. It is the State of Hawaiʻi’s constitutional obligation to Native Hawaiians that is at stake here, and we are appreciative of the Hawaiʻi state legislators who have worked with us this session to advance Senate Bill 2021 SD1 HD2 this far.

We note the increase in the proposed interim payment amount from $15.1 million to $21.5 million to adjust for inflation. We stand ready to discuss this issue further through the formulation of a working group as this is a complicated matter with broad impacts.

This is a new day at OHA. We seek a just, fair and pono resolution to this ongoing issue that will move us toward our mission of creating a thriving lāhui. Let us all sharpen our pencils and get to work as we strive to better the conditions of the Native Hawaiian people.