Shut down OHA’s reckless spending
This is a time of tremendous need for Native Hawaiians, who are disproportionately beset by poverty, homelessness, imprisonment and social problems. Now would be the time for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its trustees to focus their considerable funding resources to help the beneficiaries of that trust.
But as all can see from the stunning report released Tuesday by the Office of the State Auditor, quite the opposite has happened. OHA, according to the latest audit, has misspent millions in discretionary funding that should have been properly vetted and directed to the people who need it most.
The agency was authorized in the 1978 Constitutional Convention for the deployment of resources set aside for those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, and the first board of trustees was elected in 1980. Revenues gleaned from the “ceded lands” dating to the kingdom days are legally reserved in part to benefit the indigenous people of the state. The money is gathered into an investment trust overseen by OHA’s nine elected trustees.
OHA protested when a draft of the audit was leaked a few weeks prematurely, and now it’s painfully clear why.
The final report indicated a lack of fiscal controls over the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, a laxity that goes back decades but persists to a startling degree now. During the 2015 and 2016 budget years, the agency spent $14 million in discretionary funds, nearly twice the $7.7 million that went through its regular budget process.
This had not been budgeted, so OHA drew from its reserves to cover most of it. These are the reserves that are supposed to generate the funds for the continuation of its mission, and blowing through those funds represents an appalling lapse.
OHA Chairperson Colette Machado issued a statement on behalf of the board. It essentially was an acknowledgement of guilt.
“We appreciate that this audit is intended to help OHA improve so that we can better fulfill our mandate of bettering the conditions of Native Hawaiians,” Machado said.
No kidding. This at least is not a denial, but that is cold comfort.
Kamana‘opono Crabbe, OHA’s chief executive officer, is unworthy of the crucial, gatekeeping position; he should resign for his own egregious dereliction of duty. According to the audit, he ignored
“do not fund” recommendations from staff for indefensible spending requests, thereby disregarding his fiduciary responsibilities.
As for the trustees themselves, there has never been a stronger case made for term limits. This scandal breathes life into measures such as Senate Bill 1303, calling for amendments to the OHA election process.
The expenditure examples cited in the report are a disgrace. Five years ago, trustee allowances were expanded to enable “compassionate assistance,” described as “support for beneficiaries in their personal quest for self-improvement.”
Somehow this broad language was contorted to allow sponsorships such as $1,900 for the recipient to attend a Las Vegas rodeo competition, gifts to cover medical expenses for a trustee’s family member, political contributions and more such nonsense.
Anyone who seriously believes this is how to distribute OHA funds should not be sitting at the controls.
“We fully understand that the daunting challenges our beneficiaries face — as well as our sweeping mandate — require our commitment to continuous improvement and progress,” Machado added in her statement. “We know we must do better.”
The mandate is more than to do better, it’s to do right by the beneficiaries. The board and its executive staff have utterly failed here. Those who remain, or who are not tossed out of office in November by angry constituents, will have to prove, in short order, that they can perform their responsibilities.
Even better, they should leave the job to those who can handle it responsibly.