Dan Ahuna, Vice Chair, Trustee, Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau

With the primary elections now behind us, voters are poised to take the next step in choosing OHA trustees in November. For that reason, I would like to discuss a some of the important kuleana that comes with being a Trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

First and foremost we are here to represent the interests of the beneficiaries of OHA’s mandated trust responsibilities, the Native Hawaiian people. As trustees we are tasked with managing the assets of this trust in the best interests of those beneficiaries. There are strict legal guidelines that dictate how and why we are to make decisions. These legal obligations are referred to as “fiduciary” duties. These duties guide decisions on management of assets and general operations. This also includes how we manage sensitive information. Mismanagement of information can be just as detrimental to the trust and its beneficiaries as mismanagement of assets.

If trustees do not uphold this strict set of fiduciary duties, the trust is put at risk and those trustees can be held personally responsible for acts that they may have committed that resulted in a breach of those duties. The bottom line is that trustees must always act in the best interest of the trust. This goes for the trustees of any trust.

The job of OHA trustee is unique though, it is not quite the same as managing a private trust. OHA trustees are elected officials. OHA’s statutory mandate is broad and as a result, our kuleana at OHA covers a wide range of issues. This includes socioeconomic conditions such as health, housing, education, and the self-determination of the Native Hawaiian people to name a few.

So, there are many factors that must be balanced when making important decisions on how OHA will spend and invest in resources, but there are also broader societal factors that must be considered as well. This creates a very unique set of circumstances for trustees, OHA staff and the communities we serve.

OHA enlists experts to help guide our board in making the most prudent decisions regarding management of our financial assets. As a result, I believe OHA has been very successful in this area. The financial portfolio is valued at over $375 million and despite all the negative attention OHA has been caught in, that portfolio grew by $20.5 million last year. OHA is moving in the right direction when it comes to our investments.

Where OHA tends to get caught up in controversy is in the areas where there are no “experts” that we can rely on to give us sound advice and tell us: here are your options, here are the risks, here are the returns, etc. There are no experts to tell us how to balance the interests of our beneficiaries and our communities. The beneficiaries are the experts we must listen to, and our beneficiaries have a wide range of views on how we should prioritize various goals and objectives. Thus, we often face difficult decisions that require thoughtful deliberation.

Unfortunately, what has been all too common amongst this board of trustees for far too long, is that when we are faced with difficult deliberations, there are disagreements and those quickly become controversies. When that happens, we have seen members of this board engage in questionable political tactics employed to try to achieve “victory” rather than “consensus.” These tactics include fabricating lies, mismanaging vital organizational information, and attacking individual members of OHA and our community. This type of behavior undermines our trust duties and cannot be tolerated and MUST CHANGE. Please consider your decisions at the polls thoughtfully and carefully. Mahalo!