By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: May 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
`Ano`ai kakou… Here are a few recent developments at the legislature and at OHA:
SCHHA REQUESTS BASIC INFORMATION
On March 27th, the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homeland Assembly (or SCHHA, formerly the State Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations) called on the legislature to audit OHA. They argued that OHA did not provide them with the basic information they needed to review OHA’s settlement agreement with the Lingle Administration for back-payments of ceded land revenues due from 1978-2008.
The SCHHA specifically asked: (1) How the $200 million dollar amount was determined, including whether the revenues considered included disputed and undisputed income sources; (2) How $187 million of the total $200 million was determined to be provided in lieu of cash; (3) How the annual minimum payment of $15.1 million a year to OHA was determined; and (4) What native rights are being waived. The SCHHA also said the State and OHA need to conduct a meaningful consultation with them as required by law since they are native Hawaiian beneficiaries.
None of this would have happened if Chairperson Apoliona properly informed our beneficiaries about what this kind of settlement would mean to our future.
FORMER STAFF CLAIMS GROSS MISMANAGEMENT
Also in March, a recent former OHA employee testified to State senators that he had “witnessed a great many outrageous acts” at OHA. He wrote that, “OHA staff morale has plummeted, programs implemented to benefit Native Hawaiians have been circumvented, and gross mismanagement has been apparent from the very top.” He also said that, “Today, OHA is a self serving organization only interested in acquiring money and power for itself and is so hamstrung by politics that it has failed in its mission to help all Native Hawaiians…”
He explained that one reason for the low moral at OHA is that “…the employees who have either chosen to leave OHA or who have been fired are the most competent at what they do professionally… and have the passion and drive to create successful projects for the community. Initiative is rewarded by reprimands and/or termination from OHA by its top Administrators.”
He also supported my earlier statements in the December 2007 Ka Wai Ola that staff members are not allowed to speak directly with Trustees. He said that, “OHA staff are forbidden to speak with any of the Trustees for fear that they will ‘complain’ to them about the Administrator and the Deputy Administrator. If a request is granted to speak with a Trustee, a manager accompanies staff to monitor what is being discussed.”
Like the SCHHA, he also called for a financial and management audit of OHA, but his reason was due to “gross mismanagement.”
FOUR-MONTH RESPONSE TIME TO INFORMATIONAL REQUESTS
Here is an example of my experience, even as a Trustee, of how hard it is to get any information out of OHA. On January 4, 2008, I put in a request for specific information regarding the money being spent on sponsorships by OHA in Washington D.C.
I sent a follow-up memo on February 28th asking what happened since I had not heard back from them.
I sent another follow-up memo to the administration on March 10th asking why they had not responded.
I was finally forced to ask the Office of Information Practices (OIP) for help on March 11th.
On March 12th, my office received a memo from the administration apologizing for the delay and promising that the report will be completed by the end of the month and circulated to all Trustees.
On March 14th the OIP sent a letter to the Administration saying that they had ten days to provide the information I requested or provide a reason why they were denying my request.
On March 31st, I had my staff follow-up with the administration (17 days after the OIP letter) to see what was causing the delay. The administrator assured me that the report will be coming shortly.
Finally, on April 2nd, almost four months later, I received the information I requested.
Clearly, there is a lack of wisdom and foresight in OHA’s leadership. Mrs. Rubin, the senior aide for Chairperson Haunani Apoliona, has been way out of line with her attack ads against me. The recent incidents that I’ve described above only prove what I’ve been saying all along. Instead of addressing the problems to make things better at OHA, the Chairperson and her staff continue to deny that there are serious problems within the organization. Our beneficiaries have made their voices heard at the legislature this year, asking legislators to make OHA more transparent by sharing information and by demanding an audit.
NEW/OLD LAWSUIT – MUST FOLLOW THE MONEY
On April 3, 2008, attorney William H. Burgess, filed another lawsuit against OHA (Kuroiwa v. Lingle). Burgess is representing six people with a history of filing lawsuits against Hawaiians, including James Kuroiwa, Earl Arakaki (from the previous lawsuit Arakaki v. Lingle), and former Advertiser publisher Thurston Twigg-Smith. These people are still using the same tired arguments from Arakaki v. Lingle that have been thrown out by both Hawaii and Federal courts.
I have always said that what we need to do is follow the money and ask, “Who could be paying for this?” What is Burgess’ motivation? No one sues someone for nothing. While some people may think that a lot of people are suing us, this is not the case. All of these lawsuits are being filed by the same people and among them is Thurston Twigg-Smith, a man that has unlimited resources. One has to be asking why? What is Twigg-Smith’s real motivation? At some point, the courts need to realize that these complaints need to be thrown out permanently. There should be a limit to the nonsense. Perhaps what we need to do is sue these people for harassment. Maybe then common sense can prevail.