OHA Year in Review: My Look Back at 2018

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Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large
As we near the end of 2018, here are some highlights from the past year at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

State audit report on OHA

The state Auditor released its report on OHA in January, prompting Chair Colette Machado to place moratoriums on use of the Fiscal Reserve, Trustee Sponsorship and Allowance funds, and CEO-initiated Sponsorships. While the state audit was highly critical of OHA, I support it as a tool for strengthening OHA in its governance and administration of trust assets. Following the audit report’s publication, and ensuing public scrutiny of OHA, the Board was forced to take a hard look at existing policies to identify areas for improvement. Moving forward, I encourage OHA to continue to implement recommendations made by the Auditor.

Natural disasters on Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island

My heart goes out to Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island beneficiaries who faced historic natural disasters this year resulting in tragic loss. In April, Kaua‘i experienced torrential downpours causing flooding and extensive damage to roads, kalo farms, homes and businesses. In May, Kilauea began a months-long eruption resulting in the evacuation of thousands of residents as lava flows engulfed homes and businesses on the Big Island. I am grateful that OHA provided $500,000 in emergency financial assistance to affected beneficiaries, and made additional funds available through disaster relief loans.

Mauna Kea management

After years of failed negotiations concerning the management and preservation of cultural resources on Mauna Kea, OHA filed suit against the University of Hawaii in late 2017. The lawsuit is ongoing, seeking to order the state to fulfill its trust obligations relating to Mauna Kea and to terminate UH’s general lease. UH is currently in the process of promulgating administrative rules governing public and commercial activities on Mauna Kea. In October 2018, the state Supreme Court released a 4-1 opinion upholding the permit for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

2018 legislative session

OHA introduced a major proposal to the Legislature in 2018 – an increase of its pro rata share of annual public land trust revenues. By law, “twenty percent of all funds derived from the public land trust” must be set aside to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians. In 2006, the Legislature and OHA agreed to $15.1 million as the temporary amount to be transferred annually to OHA. This year, OHA sought to increase the amount to more accurately represent “twenty percent,” but its efforts did not move the legislature. I encourage OHA to continue to work with state legislators next year, in order to secure its fair share of PLT revenues.

Independent audit finally underway

Initially approved by the Board of Trustees in February 2017, the independent audit of OHA and its subsidiary LLCs for fraud, waste and abuse finally started in September 2018. Renowned financial services firm CliftonLarsonAllen LLP began work, and will present its final report to the Board in April 2019. This independent audit will ensure that OHA is held accountable to its beneficiaries. That is why I have pushed hard for this audit and encourage my fellow trustees to do everything necessary to guarantee its successful completion.

Looking ahead to 2019

There are many challenges and opportunities for OHA in 2019. I look forward to continuing to work humbly for Hawaiian beneficiaries to keep OHA focused on the bread and butter issues of providing housing, jobs, education and health care. I thank you for your support of OHA. From my ‘ohana to yours, Mele Kalikimaka!


Trustee Akina welcomes your comments at TrusteeAkina@oha.org.