Bring back OHA-run pro­grams

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing -

With a new year com­ing up soon I con­tinue to hope that there will be pos­i­tive changes at OHA. How­ever, change will not oc­cur un­less the trustees be­gin to hold our ad­min­is­tra­tion re­spon­si­ble for their ac­tions.

The big­gest prob­lem is that the cur­rent sys­tem en­cour­ages trustees to do noth­ing but show up to vote for ac­tion items writ­ten by the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Many of these ac­tion items are de­liv­ered to us a few days be­fore a meet­ing, giv­ing us very lit­tle time to prop­erly re­view them. This is why trustees of­ten feel blind­sided at the ta­ble by last-minute pro­pos­als.

An­other prob­lem is that OHA only re­acts to prob­lems as they pop up in­stead of proac­tively solv­ing is­sues be­fore they get se­ri­ous. With the many emer­gen­cies we face, our ben­e­fi­cia­ries can­not af­ford trustees who only sit back and pas­sively wait to put out fires.

OHA used to be a hands-on agency with a va­ri­ety of pro­grams to help our ben­e­fi­cia­ries. When­ever a ben­e­fi­ciary would call with a prob­lem, whether it had to do with health, ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, or even funds for an emer­gency, we could call some­one in the OHA ad­min­is­tra­tion for help. Our ben­e­fi­cia­ries were as­sisted quickly and ef­fi­ciently by an OHA staffer. That’s why hav­ing in-house OHA pro­grams, closely mon­i­tored by the trustees, are so im­por­tant.

To­day, OHA mostly op­er­ates like a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion that sim­ply hands out grants and con­ducts re­search. Most of the suc­cess­ful OHArun pro­grams, like Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna, which took years of hard work by past trustees to de­velop, have been con­tracted out or qui­etly dis­con­tin­ued.

OHA also had a very suc­cess­ful hous­ing pro­gram through a part­ner­ship with Fan­nie Mae and im­ple­mented through First Hawai­ian Bank. We not only pro­vided as­sis­tance with down pay­ments but also classes on how to con­trol debt in or­der to qual­ify for a mort­gage. In those pro­duc­tive years OHA ran many pro­grams with just a quar­ter of our cur­rent staff. While farm­ing work out to non­prof­its is ap­pro­pri­ate in some cases, I be­lieve OHA has gone too far.

Re­build­ing our pro­grams won’t be quick or easy, but there is hope. For the last eight years, OHA con­tracted with a third-party “mid­dle man” to ad­min­is­ter OHA’s funds to sup­port 17 Hawai­ian-fo­cused char­ter schools. The mid­dle man took a small per­cent­age of the funds as an ad­min­is­tra­tive fee to cover the costs of dis­tribut­ing the fund and en­sur­ing com­pli­ance. Since the trustees ap­proved $1.5 mil­lion for this school year and next school year, the ad­min­is­tra­tive fee was es­ti­mated to be up to $200,000 for each year.

On Oct. 19, 2017, the OHA trustees ap­proved dis­tribut­ing the $3 mil­lion di­rectly to the char­ter schools over the next two years. Amaz­ingly, the trustees fi­nally de­cided to get rid of the mid­dle man. This means that the ad­min­is­tra­tive fee will now go to the schools. It’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion I’m hop­ing we can repli­cate with other OHA pro­grams.

The trustees are ul­ti­mately ac­count­able for OHA. There­fore it makes more sense to run our pro­grams in-house so that we can mon­i­tor them. That way, OHA trustees will be more in­volved and reg­u­larly kept up to date on our pro­grams’ progress. This should be our goal for 2018. I pray that the new year will bring con­struc­tive and mean­ing­ful change. Rowena M. Akana Trustee-at-Large Of­fice of Hawai­ian Af­fairs Honolulu

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