By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana
Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA, June 2004
‘Ano’ai kakou… I hate to admit it, but the current leadership of OHA has me a bit confused. I’m sure you have heard Chairman Apoliona say on many occasions that OHA is a “temporary” organization that will someday be dissolved and its assets transferred over to the new Hawaiian Nation. So her position is clear – OHA is temporary and its money will go to fund the new Hawaiian nation.
Here’s where everything turns as clear as mud. In April Trustee Stender, the chair of her money committee, informed the Trustees that he has asked for a legal opinion that will allow OHA to spend more of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund. OHA currently has a spending limit that prevents any group of Trustees from spending the Trust like drunken sailors.
I’m sure that handing out a check to every one of the hundreds of organizations that are asking for grants would certainly make OHA very popular, but what about the long-term health of the Trust? We have carefully rebuilt the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund to over $300 million. I would hate to see it evaporate again in a shortsighted spending spree.
And as for how the Trust funds are spent, let’s not forget that four years ago OHA conducted a survey that clearly stated the beneficiaries wanted the Trustees to focus on four priorities – (1) Return of the land; (2) Education; (3) Housing; and (4) Health. The Board has not taken any action to change our focus on these areas and Trustee Stender should keep that in mind before making any decisions on his own.
I also question why the present administration can’t just follow established procedures and take the matter up in an open Board meeting. Unilateral decisions made by the Chairman and the Budget Chair must stop! All that’s needed to change the spending limit is six votes. If OHA’s leadership is too afraid to take the matter up in public at an open Board meeting, maybe that should tell you something.
I wrote several letters to the law firm that is drafting the legal opinion for Stender and shared my strong concerns about breaking the Board’s spending limit. They responded that Trustee Stender has every right to request such an opinion. I wasn’t surprised by their reply since they want to get paid for it. What is shocking is that the spending policy is not the only thing they are looking at. Trustee Stender also wants to know whether it’s even appropriate to build the Trust at all!
To even question whether we should grow the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund is just ludicrous. People like Thurston Twigg-Smith would like nothing better than to see the Trust disappear. And it’s not just the anti-OHA people either. Even our “friends” in state government are trying to cut the money coming into OHA. Governor Cayetano already cut OHA’s airport revenues and if the current state legislature had its way, OHA would probably get a lot less than it does now.
So which path will OHA’s leadership take? Will it be Chairman Apoliona’s “temporary” OHA that will turn over its assets to a new Hawaiian Nation or Trustee Stender’s OHA, which spends freely and shrink the Trust? I hope they realize that it will be difficult to do both.
My prediction is that Chairman Apoliona will flip-flop on her position and go along with Trustee Stender, unless of course, she gets enough calls telling her to do otherwise. I encourage all of you who share my concerns to call her and ask where she’s leading us.
I will continue to fight, by every means necessary, any attempt to allow the shortsightedness of OHA’s current leadership to endanger the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund or shortchange the coming Hawaiian Nation.
Imua Hawaii Nei…