Saturday, August 27, 2016


By Keli`i Akina - Honolulu Civil Beat - August 2, 2016

The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs is angling for a “co-trusteeship” of an expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. But a July 22 letter to President Barack Obama from former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and former state Govs. Ben Cayetano and George Ariyoshi point out, “The proposed expansion will impact the state’s ability to continue its trust responsibility to native Hawaiians.”

I agree. Papahanaumokuakea expansion would put money in OHA’s pockets at the expense of Hawaii’s local food supplies and native Hawaiian fishermen. Unfortunately, Papahanaumokuakea is not the only place where OHA’s interests are diametrically opposed to those of native Hawaiians. In fact, it’s the latest example of a long-running pattern.

According to Trustee Lei Ahu Isa, OHA wasted $33 million on its failed effort to impose federal tribal recognition on native Hawaiians — $33 million that could have done wonders to ease homelessness and other issues plaguing native Hawaiian communities. But this money was directed instead toward Washington lobbyists and a handful of politically connected OHA insiders pushing an agenda opposed by thousands of Hawaiians at last year’s Interior Department hearings.

To keep its spending secret, OHA has amassed the worst transparency record of any state agency. For years, OHA lawyers argued that OHA was not even subject to state laws.

OHA’s ceded lands litigation began in 1994 with a lawsuit against a plan from the Gov. John D. Waihee administration to build affordable housing projects in Lahaina and Kailua-Kona. OHA’s lawyers got paid for 15 years of futile litigation from 1994 to 2009. Meanwhile, Native Hawaiians are leaving Hawaii because we can’t afford to live here anymore.

OHA trustees in 2007 blocked the County of Kauai from constructing a juvenile residential drug treatment facility near the Hanapepe Salt ponds. Nine years later, Kauai County is still struggling to find a location to build this badly needed facility. Thanks to OHA, hundreds of Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian children on Kauai are not getting the help they need to get off methamphetamines and other drugs.

OHA’s interest in Mauna Kea consists entirely of the collection of rent money. Trustees are now threatening to sue because the $1 million per year rent deal they originally signed isn’t good enough anymore. The lawyers will profit, but Hawaii will lose the Thirty Meter Telescope and the jobs and science education opportunities that come with it.

OHA will also lose its $1 million per year. Native Hawaiians gain individual self-determination by participating in education and scientific exploration. TMT is being thrown away in OHA’s quest for more rent money.

OHA’s excessive spending came to the attention of auditors who in 2015 reported, “OHA will run out of funds” because the OHA Trust Fund has been drained by amounts ranging from $5 million to $30 million per year every year since 2005. OHA has little to show for its Kakaako Makai properties, except expensive drawings produced by politically connected architects. Other OHA properties, such as Waimea Valley, have been placed into limited liability companies with little to no transparency.

Instead of cutting wasteful spending on Cook Island junkets and padded crony contracts, OHA is looking for ways to extract money from other organizations’ projects. Proportionally, no one suffers more from OHA’s disruption of Hawaii’s economy than native Hawaiians.

We all need to ask ourselves whether OHA really embodies the state’s trust responsibility to native Hawaiians. Without OHA transparency, how can anybody claim it does?