It should be Trustees that represent OHA to the world, not the Administration

`Ano`ai kakou…  Although the Trustees were elected by the people of Hawaii and have the fiduciary responsibility to protect the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, we are rarely allowed to represent OHA outside of the state.  Instead, the Administration is by-passing the Trustees and sending its staff to represent OHA to the world.

In the month of August 2015 alone, eight OHA Administrative staff members traveled out-of-state to Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle, Dallas, and Montana [Note: None of the Trustees or their personal staff traveled out-of-state in August].  Administrative staff represented OHA in high-profile events such as the National Indian Education Association Annual Conference and the Aloha Festivals in Seattle.

In the past, I have questioned why OHA’s Administrative Staff were sent to represent OHA at prominent or prestigious events at the United Nations and in Washington, D.C.  It’s a no brainer that the Board Chair or at least the Committee Chairs should be going to these events instead.  To make matters worse I have heard that, on many occasions, the Administrative Staff members that were sent seemed to be in way over their heads.

I keep asking the Board and the Administration to send seasoned Trustees to these important events, but my suggestions keep falling on deaf ears.  No one would deny that it would be far more effective if we sent a Trustee to represent OHA at important out-of-state events.  A Trustee carries more weight and legitimacy than any appointed staff member ever will.

So why aren’t Trustees being sent to represent OHA to the world?  Perhaps it’s because of the rumored culture within the Administration that seems to look down on Trustees.  Several staff members and Trustees have told me that they get a strong sense that the higher ranking Administrative officers actually look down on the Trustees.

OHA’s highly educated Administrative officers seem to question our competence, experience, and education.  While I don’t have a Ph.D. or law degree I certainly don’t feel that my opinions on Hawaiian issues matter any less than theirs.  It is this kind of elitist attitude that alienates many of our beneficiaries and they should know better.

Unfortunately, the current Board Chair seems unable or unwilling to stand up to the Administration.  In fact, he seems to have taken a “if you can’t beat him, join him” attitude.  On August 4, 2015, he traveled with OHA’s Administrator/CEO to the Cook Islands to celebrate their 50th Anniversary of self-governance, along with a large entourage of OHA Administrative Staff members.  They seem to have had a wonderful time together and the Board Chair has gone on record as saying he supports the Administration’s international travel.  So sadly, this ongoing problem won’t get resolved until there is a change in leadership either at the Board or Administrative level.

I will certainly continue to push for a bolder leadership style that is unafraid to stand up for what is right and never kowtows to the Administration.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The tail is wagging the dog at OHA

`Ano`ai kakou…  If you need something done, don’t bother talking to the Trustees anymore.  The Administration is running the show now.  We’re just rubber stamps that sign whatever is put in front of us.

When the year began I had high hope that OHA would finally become open and transparent.  Instead, it took just a half a year for the new Board Chair to take OHA a big leap backwards to the ultra-secret and consolidated power structure of the previous two Board Chairs.


I’ve always argued that being a Trustee is not about simply showing up at a few monthly meetings.  The people of Hawaii elected us in the hope that we would make their lives better.  Unfortunately, the current Board Leadership is more interested in tying our hands and muffling our voice.


It was bad enough that there were only three Trustee committees, but now we’re back to just two.  The current Chair might argue that it will improve efficiency but the truth is it leaves one more Trustee with much less to do.

For many years OHA operated effectively with five committees.  All of us worked hard and we were deeply involved in Hawaiian issues.  Five Trustees had the opportunity to be a committee chair and could focus on a specific issue and become experts in that field.  The five-committee system produced better Trustees.

The current two-committee system takes all the policy development out of our hands.  It encourages us to just show up for meetings every other week.  While we don’t really get to develop policy anymore, we certainly get all the blame when things don’t work out.

The Trustees are now dependent on the Administration to spoon feed us everything.  None of us ran for office just to keep some seats warm.  Good Trustees should be driven to find solutions to problems that are plaguing our people.

Instead, the Administration is taking advantage of the Board’s weakness to push their own agendas, such as producing strange cartoons and travelling all over the world (more on this in my next article).

You’ll probably hear the term “Ad Hoc” sub-committees as a way of trying to get more of us involved, but don’t be fooled.  They only make suggestions and are easy to ignore.  If you don’t believe me, I can show you a list of requests that the Board Chair and Administration ignored when I was the powerful ARM committee chair.  What results could a weaker sub-committee possibly produce?


Despite the recent changes to the committee structure, I will continue to push for more fiscal responsibility within OHA such as:

  • Limiting the Administration’s excessive international travel;
  • Encouraging Board Leadership to give Trustees meaningful work and allowing them to gain further financial experience;
  • Changing our spending policy limit to 4 ½ percent of the Trust Fund given the state of the current economy;
  • Conducting a full forensic audit of how every penny is spent at OHA; and
  • Making sure the Administration keeps its promise to get rid of the “Fiscal Reserve” slush fund.

These changes won’t come easy and I am sure to meet heavy resistance.  But like I said, I didn’t become a Trustee just to attend a bunch of meetings every month.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Change is good – or is it?

June 2010 Ka Wai Ola Column

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: June 2010 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

Sometimes, even the best of intentions can go amiss.  This past February through April, OHA underwent a massive reorganization.  The purpose of the restructuring was to make OHA better able to implement the recently passed 2010-2016 OHA Strategic Plan.  While I appreciate all of the hard work that our Administration put into reorganizing OHA, I have the following concerns:


Prior to the recent re-organization, OHA had a simple structure that was easy to understand.  The Board of Trustees set the policy for the Administrator and he would oversee the day-to-day operations of OHA.  He had two Deputies helping him, one in charge of beneficiary advocacy & empowerment and another for OHA operations.

Now, OHA has been split into three levels.  The top level is the Board of Trustees.  In the second level, the “Chief Executive Officer” (CEO) oversees the “Chief Operating Officer” (COO) with the help of the “Corporation Counsel” and the “Chief Knowledge Officer.”  The CEO also directly oversees OHA’s Nonprofit, Hi’ilei Aloha, LLC.  In the third level, the COO oversees four “Line of Business” managers that have direct control over their respective divisions.  They include:  (1) the Resource Management Director/Chief Fiscal Officer, (2) the Community Relations Director, (3) the Chief Advocate, and (4) the Research Director.

The new structure has made it difficult for Trustees and their staff to assist our beneficiaries.  For example, if someone calls my office and needs help with ceded land maps, do I call the “Chief Knowledge Officer” or the “Resource Management Director” or the “Research Director?”  The answer is the “Research Director.”  So now, what happens to the unwritten rule that “employees are not to consult with trustees?”


According to COO, the Administration is planning to conduct a large amount of research so that OHA can operate based on hard data.  Unfortunately, they also plan to contract much of this work to outside companies instead of doing it “in-house.”  Given the many expert managers and advocates that we have hired, such as the “Chief Knowledge Officer,” the question is — Why?  OHA is paying these new managers generously high salaries (compared to similar state employees) and I believe they should be doing more to earn it.  Trustee Machado’s concern that OHA may be too “top-heavy” at a recent meeting appears to be correct.  Also, Hawaiians have been studied to death on almost every subject, whether it’s culture, health, housing, history, land, legends, rights — you name it and there are studies and books full of data on it.  So why are we re-inventing the wheel?

(3) GRANTS: 

The Administration is currently revising the new guidelines for approving OHA grants, but there is no word yet on when it will be completed.  My concern is that the guidelines won’t be stringent enough to prevent abuses by certain trustees to “fast tracking” grants for favored nonprofit organizations.


Many of the new positions have ridiculous titles that seem to be either too vague or too broad and the staff members who will be responsible for completing the tasks have yet to be completely identified to the trustees.  We are a Hawaiian governmental agency formed to serve our Hawaiian and native Hawaiian beneficiaries.  We are not a private corporation.  I believe the titles of the new positions and divisions need to clearly reflect the tasks and duties they are charged with.  At present, they make no logical sense at all.  My fear is that we are creating layers of bureaucracy that in the end will not produce many benefits for our beneficiaries.  So is this change good?  We shall have to wait and see.

If you have a comment to share or if you have subjects that you would like to know more about, please send it to my office or write a letter to the editor of the Ka Wai Ola o OHA.  Aloha pumehana.