This month marks one year since my swearing in as Trustee at-Large of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It’s a good time to reflect on whether I have followed through on the promises I made to OHA beneficiaries and all citizens of Hawaiʻi.
From the outset, I committed myself to doing three things for the sake of the Hawaiian people: First, ensure a full and independent audit of OHA. Secondly, guide OHA towards financial sustainability as well as growth. Third, watch to make sure OHA funds are not misspent but rather used to meet the real needs of Hawaiian people.
An independent audit of OHA targeting fraud, waste and abuse will begin in early 2018. This independent audit, which goes beyond the scope of OHA’s routine financial audits and state legislative audits, will help restore accountability and integrity to OHA. Many individuals worked hard to make this audit possible. I am grateful that my proposal was approved unanimously by all nine Trustees, and that I was appointed to my first leadership position as chairman of the Audit Advisory Committee. Demonstrating its full commitment, the Board of Trustees authorized $500,000 for this independent audit, sufficient to attract a highly qualified firm in a nationwide search. We estimate the audit to be completed towards the end of 2018 and will address areas of concern to beneficiaries.
A serious concern I have raised stems from OHA’s own financial consultants’ finding that the Native Hawaiian trust fund was being depleted at a rate of approximately five to six percent annually. At that rate, the intergenerational equity of the fund was in jeopardy. Immediately, when I became a trustee, I produced and distributed a report to the trustees entitled, “Crucial Recommendations for Fiscal Sustainability.” (You can contact my office for a copy.) My report provides a game plan to ensure long-term financial sustainability for a strong OHA, so that it can accomplish its mission of bettering the conditions of the Hawaiian people. That game plan, which guides my interactions with the board on financial matters for OHA, is as follows:
- Protect the trust – Reduce annual spending and create new policies for controlling the budget.
- Grow the trust – Ensure that OHA follows sound investment strategies and develops resources like the 30 acres it owns in Kakaʻako.
- Properly spend the trust – Spend only on OHA’s mission to serve the Hawaiian people.
OHA commissioned a scientific survey in 2015 which revealed that the Hawaiian people ranked OHA as the least reputable of all Hawaiian organizations. The survey also showed that Hawaiians did not want OHA to be spending its resources on nation-building but instead on real bread and butter issues such as housing, jobs, education, and health care for Hawaiians – not political efforts. Up until then, OHA had spent millions of dollars on pursuing the unsuccessful Akaka bill and failed Hawaiian registry programs such as Kanaʻiolowalu and Naʻi Aupuni. In keeping with the will of OHA’s beneficiaries and constitutional mandate, I have worked hard to keep OHA on track and focused on delivering resources that Hawaiians need.
Looking back, it’s been an incredible year. Without wise beneficiaries, engaged community members and my outstanding staff, our accomplishments would not have been possible. Mahalo nui! I am humbled to serve you and pledge my future service to the betterment of the Hawaiian people.
E Hana Kākou/Let’s work together… and have a blessed Christmas season!