Ka Wai Ola

Colette Y. Machado, Chair, Trustee Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i

The 30th Legislature of the State of Hawai‘i convened last month, bringing about another busy session at the Capitol in Honolulu. The Legislature welcomed some new faces in each of its chambers, and saw many familiar ones return as well. Committees shuffled and reorganized. But at the same time, amidst all the excitement and changes, some of the same questions are left unanswered. Among those issues, where is the accountability of the State on the revenues generated by the Public Land Trust (PLT)?

For too long, leaders and advocates in the Native Hawaiian community have carried this kuleana, often times, it would seem, alone. Yet, Native Hawaiians are not the sole beneficiaries of this revenue. The State’s responsibility to the people go back to the Admissions Act, which identify five areas this revenue is to benefit. These general areas were requirements for these revenues directed to the State by the federal government.

Photo: Hawai' state capitol
Hawai‘i State Capitol. – Photo: Nelson Gaspar

Directly excerpted from section 5(f) of the Admissions Act, the revenues generated by the Public Land Trust were for five areas listed below:

  1. support of the public schools and other public educational institutions
  2. for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians, as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920, as amended
  3. for the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible
  4. for the making of public improvements, and
  5. for the provision of lands for public use

All of the five issues above remain hot topics at all levels of government in Hawai‘i. Public education, homeownership, public improvements, lands for public use, and the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians. These are areas that are hotly debated at the Legislature, especially in the arena of funding.

Yet, despite these specific instruction in the Admissions Act, where are these revenues? Are specific agencies designated with the responsibility of receiving these revenues and are they serving these purposes?

Critics try to distract from the issue by trying to draw questions of accountability over the use of the revenue directed for the betterment of Native Hawaiians. These questions of accountability are misdirected. There are other longstanding questions which remain unanswered. Among them, why are the accounting mechanisms inconsistent across state agencies, and why does an outdated cap on the portion due to Native Hawaiians remain in place?

The income generated from the Public Land Trust that is due to all five of these areas would greatly improve the lives of all of Hawai‘i’s people. Community advocates have fought for transparency and accountability of these revenues for more than 40 years. Yet, with Hawai‘i’s Admission to the union occurring in 1959, the question of these funds date back even further. Is this justice?

Fulfilling this obligation is a kuleana of the State, codified in its Admissions Act and since then acknowledged in subsequent laws. Accountability of these funds, and full due payments of its revenues, is pono, and is long overdue. The people deserve answers how all five areas are fulfilled.