Setting priorities and developing a plan should be our goal for 2006

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA, January 2006

‘Ano’ai kakou… In her State of OHA speech this past December, Trustee Apoliona highlighted what OHA has done for our beneficiaries in 2005. She proudly stated that OHA handed out millions of dollars in grant money, defended itself against lawsuits, and worked vigorously to pass the Hawaiian Federal Recognition (Akaka) bill. While she may feel that this is all well and good, I would like to offer my views.

OHA has completely changed from just a few years ago. Instead of a proactive agency with a variety of programs to help our beneficiaries, OHA now operates more like a charitable foundation that just hands out grants. While the grants that were awarded last year did go to worthwhile causes, I can’t help but feel that OHA is just passing the buck. I’m not saying that OHA should or could do everything, but I do believe that OHA can do much more for our beneficiaries in terms of programs and services. We have nine trustees and over a hundred staff members who are eager to make a difference. The problem is that OHA doesn’t seem to promote initiative.

Currently, we just wait for problems to come to us and then throw money at it. Just look at the words that Apoliona used to describe what OHA has done in the past year: We “awarded” grants, we “maintained” programs, we “distributed” funds, we “responded” to requests, and we “defended” against lawsuits. When is OHA going to start building or creating something?

Many of our people are forced to live on the beach because of the lack of affordable houses and rentals. OHA should be setting up programs to help our homeless beneficiaries get into shelters and transitional housing. What’s happened to OHA’s housing division? Apoliona’s speech mentions the OHA 103 Home Loan program administered by First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii but OHA has done nothing to improve the program after both banks told us a year-and-a-half ago that only a few people have taken advantage of the program. I should also mention that you can’t just distribute a bunch of business loans and call it “economic development.”

The biggest problem with handing out grants to deal with long-term problems is that grant monies eventually run out and services get cut. That’s why we need on-going programs that are properly funded and monitored by the trustees. So why isn’t OHA developing any new programs? It should be obvious to anyone who was listening to Trustee Apoliona’s speech – that OHA focused more on lobbying Congress than on anything else.

One issue shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow everything else we do. Perhaps it is time for OHA to start seriously rethink its priorities, vision, and strategy for the future. I supported the previous versions of the Akaka bill, warts and all, because I believed that it would help us form a strong Hawaiian nation. I still think that federal recognition is crucial for us to begin the process of nationhood.

However, over the past year, Republican Senators and members of the administration have managed to change our bill significantly and we haven’t gotten anywhere with the White House. All of this happened despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we have paid to a powerful and well-connected Washington D.C. lobbying firm to get the bill passed. My personal opinion is that we may need to wait for a friendlier administration to take office before the bill goes anywhere.

Handing out millions of dollars in grants is just a band-aid solution to the many problems that we need to address in a serious manner. Developing good programs won’t be quick or easy, but they will do much more to serve the needs of our beneficiaries over the long haul. Setting priorities and developing a plan to meet those priorities is desperately needed at OHA. This should be our goal for 2006.

Imua e Hawai’i nei…