OHA Beneficiaries Need More Than Unity Amongst Trustees

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Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

As 2019 begins, I want to welcome incoming OHA Trustees Brendon Kalei‘āina Lee and Kalei Akaka. I look forward to your energy and ideas. Let me also wish a fond farewell to veteran Trustees Peter Apo and Rowena Akana. You have both made meaningful contributions to the Hawaiian people.

Those who attended our December 10 Board meeting or the December 11 Investiture Ceremony witnessed a sense of unity among trustees. I am wholly in support of unity as it promotes mutual respect and aloha.

The highest purpose for the Board is more than unity, however. It is established in the Hawai‘i Constitution and all Trustees have sworn to uphold it: the “betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians.”

Currently, OHA faces serious challenges to betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians. For example:

  • The waitlist for Hawaiian Homelands has swelled to 27,000 and thousands have died waiting, never acquiring a home.
  • Valuable income properties owned by OHA, including almost 30 acres of Honolulu waterfront property in Kaka‘ako, are undeveloped, forfeiting potential revenues that could serve Hawaiians.
  • Media outlets have reported that external agencies are investigating OHA.
  • OHA’s own audit for fraud, waste and abuse, contracted to an independent national firm, not only faced more than a year’s delay in getting started, but is currently facing challenges, jeopardizing its timely completion.

Unity is admirable, but the Board’s higher purpose is resolution of the many problems the native Hawaiian people face.

Since my election in 2016, I have advocated three crucial steps to better the conditions of native Hawaiians. OHA is a trust of land and financial resources. We must (1) protect the trust, (2) grow the trust, and (3) use the trust to meet the needs of Hawaiians.

Protect the Trust

We must protect the trust from fraud, waste and abuse. The Board must demand transparency and accountability for the sake of OHA’s reputation, and it is imperative that OHA cooperate fully with any agencies making inquiry on behalf of beneficiaries.

Additionally, we must complete the independent audit for fraud, waste and abuse without further delay or interference. That is why I am grateful to Board Chair Trustee Machado and Resource Management Chair Trustee Ahu Isa, for affirming their commitment to the audit when I queried them at our Board meeting in December. I look to them to ensure its timely completion.

Grow the Trust

The Board must take an aggressive stance to develop OHA’s commercial properties and generate revenue for serving the Hawaiian people. While there may be many obstacles to the development of OHA’s “goldmine” properties in Kaka‘ako and at Iwilei, the Board must provide the vision and engage the best commercial development advisors and professionals to carry out that vision.

Use the Trust

OHA’s resources have the potential to transform the conditions of the Hawaiian people. For example, getting Hawaiians into homes and off the Hawaiian homelands waitlist can be accomplished with adequate financing for infrastructure, innovative building, and empowerment of future homeowners to obtain financing. While some have objected that the Hawaiian Homelands are not OHA’s kuleana, betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiian people clearly is. That makes it OHA’s business to ensure that Hawaiians have adequate housing as well as jobs, education and health care.

Unity is a great thing for OHA, but it must not become more important than betterment of the conditions of our beneficiaries. Toward that end, I pledge to continue working with my fellow Trustees.

E Hana Kākou!/ Let’s work together!

Trustee Akina welcomes your comments and feedback at TrusteeAkina@oha.org.