Who Was Briefing Whom?


Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

Every year before the Hawaiʻi State Legislature convenes, state agencies go before various Senate and House committees to provide legislators with a briefing on each agency’s budget for the year.

OHA went before a joint senate committee of the Ways and Means (WAM) and Hawaiian Affairs (HAWN) committees, followed by a briefing for the House Finance committee (FIN). This year the briefing was provided by OHA Ka Pouhana (CEO) Dr. Sylvia Hussey and Chair Trustee Hulu Lindsey.

At the senate hearing, Sen. Maile Shimabukuro gave notice that she would be introducing a resolution on behalf of constituents for a study to be done on whether the Hawaiʻi State Burial Council should be moved from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to OHA, and did the agency have any thoughts about this.

Those representing OHA in the meetings responded they would support a study of the issue to consider whether OHA could bring solutions to the problem, or if it was just an effort to transfer the kuleana to OHA so that they would not have to deal with it.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz pointed out that OHA has no regulatory or enforcement authorities so that move would be difficult. Sen. Dela Cruz answered the other senators’ questions when OHA could not.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye would go on to ask if OHA could divert some of the Native Hawaiian Trust funds to the Department of Hawaiian Homes (DHHL) to use for infrastructure to build more homes. Trustee Lindsey pointed out that OHA pays DHHL $3 million every year. Sen. Dela Cruz clarified for the other senators that OHA pays the debt service on the revenue bonds that DHHL used to build already completed projects.

No one felt the need to point out to Sen. Inouye that it is the State of Hawaiʻi’s fiduciary responsibility to fund DHHL, not OHA’s; or to point out to her that the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund was established from a settlement with the State of Hawaiʻi for past Public Land Trust revenues not paid to OHA.

So Sen. Inouye would have Hawaiians pay the state’s obligation with funds the state paid to Hawaiians for not paying their past obligations.

Then there is Sen. Michelle Kidani who wants to know why OHA’s trustees do not oversee all employees rather than just the CEO. How does a three-term senator, and one of OHA’s biggest critics, not know this is not a decision for trustees to make – it is how Hawaiʻi Revised Statute Chapter 10 is written. Why is she asking OHA to consider this when Trustees have no authority to change HRS 10?

When OHA briefed the House Committee on Finance it was more of the same.

Rep. Stacelynn Eli asked the question about OHA funding DHHL ,with no question to the representative about the state’s fiduciary responsibility to DHHL.

Then there is newly elected Rep. Patrick Branco. After pointing out that not many Native Hawaiians live in his district, he asked what OHA was going to do to bolster its image. He says it would be hard for him to explain to his district why OHA should get more money when they have a negative image, as does DHHL.

Well, Rep. Branco, maybe by explaining to them the law that requires you to fund DHHL and OHA. Before you start casting stones at OHA’s fiduciary responsibilities, perhaps you should understand yours.