Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

In 1959 the United States passed an Act that specified that all proceeds and income from the sale, lease or other disposition of lands by the United States were to be conveyed to the State and shall be held as a public trust for the support of the public schools and other public educational institutions, for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiian as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920, as amended, for the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible, for the making of public improvements, and for the provision of lands for public use.

Every year we hear in the news about The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Legislature on the two sides of how much money from the Public Trust should be given to the Office. In 2006, Act 178 was passed specifying that The Office of Hawaiian Affairs would receive $15.1 million a year as their portion of the Public Land Trust. The discussion that never takes place, that I would like to have is how much and where does the other portions of the Public Land Trust funds go.

An accounting of all Public Land Trust funds since 1959 is long overdue. We hear every year how public-school teachers do not have enough money and how our schools do not have enough funds for capital improvements. How affordable housing and more sustainable agriculture is needed, and how our roads and bridges are in disrepair. When it comes to Public Land Trust funds it should no long be a conversation about The Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The conversation should be about how is the State of Hawai‘i fulfilling its fiduciary duty to the lands it was granted by the United States to hold in trust for the people of Hawai‘i.

The Senate convened a joint committee hearing with Ways and Means and Water and Land for all State agencies that have Public Land Trust lands in their inventory to report their individual agencies accounting for all funds taken in. Senator Kahele questioned all agencies as to why they are choosing what funds to report when the law states that they are required to report all funds. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs also testified as to what we feel is a more accurate amount of what 20% of the Public Land Trust Funds would be. Why were the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture not present to testify to the amount of Public Land Trust funds their agencies should be receiving to fulfill the States obligation to the people of Hawai‘i? When Senator Kidani, chair of the Education Committee, questioned how The Office of Hawaiian Affairs spends its money, why was she not asking about the funds that should be allocated to public education? The Department of Transportation testified to the amount of funds it takes in, however there was no mention as to the funds owed them as a beneficiary of the Public Land Trust. None of the five counties of the State were present to testify about the funds owed to them.

The conversation about Public Land Trust needs to change. No longer should it be about The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the State. There are so many other beneficiaries that need to be at the table. With all these beneficiaries working together hopefully we will be able to come to an accurate accounting of the State’s responsibilities over the lands entrusted to it.