By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: October 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
My Hope for CHANGE and what voters should know about OHA Trustees running for re-election
I can tell you all about the millions and millions of dollars being spent at OHA with no accountability.
I can tell you that since Apoliona has been OHA Chairperson, all of the programs that existed when she took the chairmanship are now gone.
I can tell you that since she became the Chair, our annual budget went from $24 million to $52 million. This year, OHA’s budget is $36,664,847. Add to that the $11,358,014 being encumbered and $4,792,605 left over from last year’s budget making our current budget swell to a tidy sum of $52,815,466. Where is all that money going? Only six budget meetings were held this year, out of the 13 scheduled. Because of cancellations, and there was never any agenda that allowed Trustees to question budget spending.
I can tell you too that Apoliona continues to renew contract after contract for the same lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and other consultants, to the tune of $2.75 million, even though we have not achieved the outcome we sought.
I can tell you that for at least four years, Apoliona has traveled all over the continental U.S. with her sister, OHA’s Administrator and other staff members. Apoliona has spent millions buying dinners, hosting parties, sponsoring events all across America and Washington, D.C., flying on unrestricted airline tickets and first-class, and spent almost $8,000 on one trip alone with still nothing to show for it. Grants have been given out to many organizations and individuals on the mainland that are not 501(c)3 to sign up Native Hawaiians for Kau Inoa. After awhile, you feel as though you are back in the time of the Wild West, where there were no laws and no one to hold you accountable for your actions.
I can tell you that nepotism lives here at OHA. With Apoliona’s sister flying first-class all over the U.S. and spending trust dollars like it was her own, and maxing out an OHA credit card at $10,000. Apoliona’s sister then used her own credit card to charge expenses and then sought reimbursements of up to almost $50,000.
I can tell you that the morale at OHA has never been lower. Eight employees this year alone either were fired or quit because of the oppressive “Big Brother” culture that has spread like a cancer within the OHA offices. Employees are fingerprinted for I.D. cards so they can be tracked as they access their offices, security cameras watch their every move, and they are constantly reminded that they are “at-will” employees and can be fired at anytime. They are also told that they do not work for the Trustees and must answer only to the Administrator.
I can tell you that harassment and smear campaigns against any Trustee or employee that criticizes the goings-on here is not beneath Apoliona. If you are a staffer, you are simply fired. If you are a Trustee, Apoliona threatens you with censorship and plants things in newspapers to discredit you and to draw attention away from HER. For instance, a recent article written by a Star-Bulletin reporter, who is a friend of our Public Information Officer, wrote about my travel expenses but didn’t print anything about Apoliona’s $8,000 trip to D.C. Trustees’ articles are also read by the Administrator before being printed in the Ka Wai Ola and if there is criticism of the office, the administration will have their own article in the same paper to negate your article.
I can tell you that, two years ago, Colette Machado, who is running for re-election from Molokai-Lanai, misled the Board by asking us to approve a resolution supporting Molokai Ranch’s efforts to give the community thousands of acres of land in exchange for a development of high-end homes to be built on the ranch. Machado told us that the community supported this effort and we believed her and approved the resolution. One year later, we found out that this was not the case at all. Machado also failed to tell us at the time that she was involved with the land trust that was to control the donated lands and that she later became the chair of the land trust. Last year, a nonprofit group representing this land trust came to OHA for a grant and received $100,000 for operating costs.
While this kind of behavior may seem incredible of people who were elected to protect your trust assets, it pales in comparison to the behavior they display to beneficiaries when they come before us to testify at the Board table. For example, during a hearing held at the state Capitol when I was working on a Kupuna health initiative, many Kupuna came from all of the islands to testify before the Board in support of a proposed OHA supplemental drug plan. The Kupuna explained to the Trustees about how important this plan was to them, sharing stories about how they had to split their medication in half to stretch it because they couldn’t afford the medication. Both Machado and Apoliona voted against the plan. Not only did they vote against it, they were rude to the Kupuna who came to testify and even made some of them cry.
Machado said to one Kupuna who had flown in from Hilo and was in a wheelchair, “Do you think that I am going to vote for this just because you came here in a wheelchair and your oxygen machine?”
In another incident, when Apoliona and Machado were elected in 1996, Apoliona immediately wanted to become Chair of the Board after just being elected. In an interview with me she asked, “Who would you support for the chairmanship?” I replied: “Moses Keale. He is the most senior Trustee, he has the most experience, he is fair, he is the longest-serving member, and he started most of the programs that we are continuing here. Not only that, this is his last term.” Apoliona’s response was a cold, “Moses is sick and he’s going to die.” I replied, “Everyone is going to die, only God knows when that will be.” At the time, Moses was on a dialysis machine twice a week. Needless to say, neither Apoliona nor Moses became the Chair that year. However, it didn’t stop her from telling him that he should retire and get off the Board. These comments were made to a man who had given 12 years of his life to OHA, without any compensation. I have served on the Board for 18 years and have met wonderful Trustees along the way, but I have never met two more “mean-spirited” people than Machado and Apoliona, who continue to display bad behavior that is unconscionable.
Our people deserve better. They deserve leaders who can lead by example and leaders who are able to work with everyone. Leaders who can inspire and bring hope to our younger generation of Hawaiians who will come after us. Leaders who can agree to disagree with those who do not share our views but who can respect them for their differences. We cannot treat people who do not agree with us as enemies, we will never be able to build a nation that way.
In this election year, voters can make the necessary changes and elect people who will be accountable and listen to other perspectives and views and most of all listen to our beneficiaries. This is my hope for CHANGE. Mahalo Ke Akua.