OHA is a Totally Different Place Today


Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

In a recent column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser (Island Voices, June 11, 2023), James Logue observed that “restoring trust in government necessitates addressing the root causes of corruption and promoting transparency, accountability and ethical behavior among public officials.”

We at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) could not agree more.

It is regrettable that, despite referencing the 2018 audit of OHA, Logue does not remind the reader that addressing corruption and making systemic changes to promote accountability are exactly the steps the OHA Board of Trustees (BOT) took when they saw the audit report.

In November 2022, OHA announced the results of another report it had commissioned from Plante Moran, that reviewed all the questionable items raised in the 2018 audit and the steps taken to address them.

The OHA BOT has cleaned house and revamped processes for approval of projects and grants to ensure far better oversight and to minimize the kind of arbitrary behavior of executives funneling money to projects that may not have received Board scrutiny.

OHA made its actions known publicly through a press conference last year. The Honolulu Star Advertiser hailed the progress, observing in a Nov. 21, 2022, editorial that “OHA has stepped up fiscal management and transparency, with budget and spending information readily available on its website.”

As Trustee Keliʻi Akina rightly observed, “The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is today a totally different place from 2012 to 2016…there was a culture that made fraud, waste and abuse easy to do at OHA…That culture is no longer here.”

But the concern about trust in government and the motivations of our elected officials remains valid as we look back on the legislative session just completed.

Commentaries from various nonprofits and advocates for a variety of good government measures reflect the fact that too many worthy bills failed for no good reason. More than ever, we need citizens to be vigilant and engaged as our democracy faces unthinkable threats from those who value power more than the wellbeing of the people who elected them. This is no time to be complacent.

The need to restore faith in government is indeed urgent. It is an enterprise in which all of us have a responsibility to play a role. Hawaiʻi should rank amongst the states with the highest voter participation given that we now have Automatic Voter Registration and Vote by Mail statewide. Rural communities should make their voices heard as loudly as those in the urban centers that have long dominated our politics.

As I shared with our beneficiaries in Molokaʻi at our annual OHA Trustees meeting, some of their issues do not fall under the Trustees’ purview, but OHA can advocate on their behalf. We have loud voices. Distance from the centers of power and decision-making should not mean exclusion from shaping the policies that loom large in all our lives.

OHA is dedicated to making sure that our beneficiaries understand the potentially enormous power of their ballot and how using it can help ensure that we have a government that works for everyone, and not just for special interests.

More people exercising their precious right to vote would help contribute to better leadership and the “full ethics cleanup at the People’s House” that the Honolulu Star Advertiser called for in a Jan. 2, 2023, article.

I implore you to pay attention to what’s happening in government, in the centers of power and decision-making, and how it will affect the lives of our children and their children. As my grandmother always told me, “E makaʻala mai i ka hana.”