Shut down OHA’s reck­less spend­ing

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES -

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.

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