Protecting OHA from Corruption

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Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeWhen we think about government and political corruption, big cities usually come to mind, like Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But recent headlines show that we in Hawai‘i have our own share of corruption in government. For example:

• Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha was convicted of using his position to frame an innocent man. His wife, former Deputy City Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, was convicted of obstruction of justice.

• State Representatives English and Cullen pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

• Former Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro was arrested for bribery.

• Former Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Corporate Counsel Donna Leong, and Police Commission Chair Max Sword have been charged with federal conspiracy.

I recently interviewed Randall Roth, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi Richardson School of Law, on my ThinkTech Hawaiʻi show. Roth is well known for his co-authorship of Broken Trust, the definitive account of the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate scandal. He said some startling things.

Roth On Hawai‘i’s Corruption: “Corruption is worse here than in other states and territories.” “The County Ethics Commission behaved very poorly” in the “Kealoha series of cases described in The Mailbox Conspiracy.” “Members of the Supreme Court shouldn’t have been selecting trustees to the Bishop Estate.” “Powerful members of our community engaged in wrongdoing…various official watchdogs engage in willful blindness.” “Corruption includes a person using the powers given to them primarily for the benefit of themselves, or special interests.”

Roth on Lack of Transparency: “We really haven’t had accountability for wrongdoing in government. We really haven’t had transparency.” “Corruption in Hawaiʻi is particularly bad, unless we make some meaningful changes, I don’t think it’s going to get better.”

Roth on Overcoming Corruption: “Rather than engage in willful blindness…we’ve got to engage in robust dialogue, discussion, debate, as to what this means and what can be done about it…whatever we do, we have to do with the interests of future generations first and foremost in our mind.”

My conversation with Professor Roth reminds me of the Board of Trustees’ fiduciary duty to protect OHA from corruption. From the time I was elected a trustee in 2016, I have made it a priority to confront and prevent corruption at OHA. During my first year as a trustee, I called for an independent review of OHA’s financial transactions to ensure that OHA’s fiduciary duties were being upheld. As a result, Clifton Larson Allen (CLA), the 8th largest accountancy firm in the U.S., was contracted by OHA to conduct an independent review of OHA’s financial transactions from 2012-2016.

The CLA report identified individuals and organizations involved in 38 “red flag” transactions from 2012-2016 which showed “indicators” of potential fraud, waste, and abuse. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the CLA Report was completed nearly three years ago, no action has been taken to officially follow-through on the 38 “red flag” transactions.

Hopefully, that may now change as the Board of Trustees are preparing to receive a new report designed to show whether the 38 “red flag” transactions have actual evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse. This report is being prepared by the forensic auditing firm Plante Moran.

Already, a new day at OHA has begun as our agency has implemented numerous recommendations made in the CLA report. These include significant checks and balances that are now practiced regularly at OHA.

By taking appropriate action when the Plante Moran report is completed, OHA will have an incredible opportunity to become a role model for government agencies when it comes to confronting and eliminating corruption. Let’s holomua!