Ka Wai Ola

Peter Apo, Trustee, O‘ahuThis is my third column in which I offer some thought leadership as to OHA’s struggle to navigate an unfriendly sea of public opinion, a divided beneficiary community, and low ratings from Hawaii’s business community and local government. Some readers may take exception to this analysis as overly dramatic. I readily acknowledge that my expressed opinion here is based on the finger in the wind test and absent conclusive research based on any public opinion poll. Nevertheless I pursue my sense of urgency with conviction.

To catch up those just joining this series, I’m calling on my fellow Trustees, in a friendly voice, to engage in serious discussion about restructuring OHA with respect to both why OHA exists and how Trustees go about their business of managing OHA’s resources on behalf of its beneficiaries.

It is my observation that OHA is mired in a structural time warp of our own evolution, clinging to outdated policies and practices and administrative management schemes that were born in the ‘80s. To put our governance history in nautical terms, while there have been crew changes and new sails raised from time to time, the ship is still heading in the same direction trying to outrun the following storm.

In the previous two columns I called for revisiting the constitutional intent and mission of OHA. Here I propose a third objective: to re-write the OHA Strategic Plan and its currently stated overarching objectives of ‘Aina, Culture, Economic Self-sufficiency, Education, Governance, and Health.

The state constitutional provision that provided a basis for the creation of OHA is floated on the language of the Hawai‘i Admissions Act that puts forth a simply purposed trust responsibility, “…for the betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians.” We need to qualify and quantify what that means and then frame that purpose in a set of quality of life initiatives mounted on a bed of quality of life indicators that directly impact the day to day lives of native Hawaiians.

I propose that OHA amend its Strategic Plan and reconsider how the strategic objectives are stated. For instance, it’s not enough to simply create a broad objective titled health and leave the outcomes of what we mean by health up to OHA administration. However, if the objective is stated as Access to Health Care, OHA is now more clearly guided by an objective that is success-measureable. Some may argue that wordsmithing an objective in a way that simultaneously states the expected outcome is too narrow and would preclude other aspects of health care besides access. I say OHA cannot be all things to all people and, in the case of health care, access is the single most important quality of life game-changer for Hawaiians. Similarly, Economic Self-sufficiency needs to be specific – access to housing and jobs.

There is nothing more strategic to Hawaiians than day-to-day quality of life. I urge that OHA restructure its Strategic Plan to be based on a quality of life index that gives real meaning to the words self-determination – for every Hawaiian to have a fair opportunity to self-determine their own destiny.

So, what of the big picture pursuits that are essentially political challenges that are mostly mired in exhaustive (and expensive) tugs-of-war like nation building, public policy, native rights, and so forth? Are these to be abandoned by OHA? Of course not, but, if up to me, they would be ensconced on the edges of the OHA resource allocation framework which would have at its core the quality of life index.

Read more of Trustee Apo’s mana‘o at PeterApo.com.

Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.