Saying a final farewell to former OHA Trustee Moanikeꞌala Akaka

`Ano`ai kakou…  It is with sadness I say aloha to former OHA Trustee Moanikeʻala Akaka who passed away in Hilo on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the age of 72.  I had the distinct honor of serving with Moani on the OHA Board from 1990 to 1996.

Trustee Akaka was a prominent figure in the early days of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and her outspoken and passionate activism on behalf of Native Hawaiians and the disenfranchised continued throughout her entire life.  Trustee Akaka strongly opposed the militarization of Hawaiʻi and the use of Kahaoʻolawe and Pōhakuloa as bombing and munitions training areas and she was also a passionate advocate for the protection of Mauna Kea.

In February, 2004, Trustee Akaka came to ask OHA if she qualified for state retirement for her past service as an OHA Trustee from November 28, 1984 to November 15, 1996.  The administration let her know that she did not qualify for state retirement under the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS).

From November 26, 1980 through 1993, OHA Trustees served without a salary.  Trustees received a stipend of $50.00 per day for each meeting they attended and travel expenses.  So back then, Trustees were considered part-time workers but we worked full-time.

In 1993, the OHA Trustee Salary Commission was established and Trustees started to receive an annual salary of $32,000, but we were not included in the ERS so we didn’t qualify for state retirement benefits.

In 2002, the law was changed to allow OHA Trustees, in service on or after July 1, 2002, to participate in the ERS.  Although we tried to grandfather in the past Trustees, the new law ended up excluding past Trustees that served before July 1, 2002.  The law only gave retirement benefits to Trustees elected after July 1, 2002.

In February of 2015, Trustee Akaka renewed her request for retirement benefits from OHA.  As Chair of the Budget Committee, I asked the Administration to draft an action item proposing to make a single, lump sum payment to former Trustee Akaka, which would equal a Trustees’ one year’s salary in 2015, excluding fringe benefits.  Although some Trustees had some concerns, this proposal passed with no objections on May 14, 2015.

For too many years, OHA Trustees were treated as “step children” of the State.  Yet we are elected statewide and serve all year long.  We are also fiduciaries which no other elected officials are.  Our responsibilities are much greater than a state legislator.  Yet it took 13 years to get a salary, which comes from Trust Funds, and 22 years to be allowed retirement benefits.  The legislature can give itself raises while OHA has to wait for the Governor to appoint a salary commission every four years to see if we deserve a raise.  It’s been eight years and two Commissions who have said no to raises.  What is wrong with this picture?  We are still being treated as second class citizens.

On May 25, 2017, the Trustees adopted a resolution honoring the life and contributions of Trustee Akaka and extended its deepest condolences to her ʻohana.  If you are interested in making a donation to the ‘ohana, checks can be made payable to Trustee Akaka’s daughter.  Here is her contact information:  Ho‘oululahui Erika Perry, 80 Alahelenui Street, Hilo, HI 96720.

Mahalo nui and Godspeed Moani.

2006 Legislative Wrap-up


Source: June 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  I had high hopes of a productive legislative session back in January, but my hopes were dashes by mid-session when several bills that were dear to me died in committee.  Here is a brief run-down of three bills that I strongly supported:

Interim Revenue.  Senate Bill 2948 establishes the amount of interim revenue to be transferred to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from the public land trust, each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2005-2006, at $15,100,000.  The bill also appropriates $17,500,000 as the amount of revenues owed to OHA for the underpayment of OHA’s pro rata share of the public land trust revenues between July 1, 2001 and June 30, 2005.  As of this writing, the bill is awaiting signature from the Governor to be enacted into law.

OHA Retirement Bill.  SB916 would have allowed trustees with at least five years of service with the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) to buy-back credit for their prior service.  SB 916 was just a housekeeping measure that would correct an oversight in a previous bill passed in 2002.  Unfortunately, for the past three years, the ERS board, through its Administrator, has lobbied the House not to pass the bill.  For this reason, the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Scott Saiki, refused to even give the bill a hearing.

Property Tax Exemption for Kuleana Lands.  SB914 would have exempted Kuleana lands from real property taxes if the land has been continuously occupied by the original titleholder.  Commercial developments have led to sharp increases in taxes on real property, including Kuleana land, throughout the State.  These increases have adversely affected many Hawaiian families who live on kuleana lands because they are unable to pay for the taxes.  Hawaiian families living on kuleana land now face the loss of their land and legacy that took generations to establish and must confront the possibility of homelessness.

SB914 got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs committee chairman, Senator Colleen Hanabusa, but the bill came up one-vote short of passing.  I tried to convince Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who voted “no,” to change her mind and support the bill.  Unfortunately, she refused to budge from her position that we should first get each county to agree to it.

I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council.  Bill 25 was introduced on March 15, 2006 and was passed unanimously by the Council’s Budget Committee on April 26, 2006.  It is scheduled to be heard and voted by the full Council on May 17th

Ceded Land Revenues.  HB 459 would have clarified the lands comprising and the revenue derived from the public land trust under the state constitution and what is owed to OHA.  Like in past sessions, this bill went no where.  Ever since 2001, when Act 304 was repealed, OHA has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would reestablish the continued funding of OHA from ceded land revenues.  We almost got the bill passed in 2003.  It was passed unamended in the Senate but died in the House Finance committee after the committee changed the bill to leave out money from improvements to the land.

As the campaign season heats this fall, I ask that you question the candidates in your district about their positions on important Hawaiian issues.  It’s time to take a stand against politicians who patronize Hawaiian issues with meaningless words and no positive action.  Politicians like Representative Scott Saiki, who are influenced by lobbyists instead of their constituents, don’t deserve to be re-elected.  In the last election, Rep. Saiki won by only 5,006 votes, while OHA trustees typically win with over 100,000 votes from all voters (not just Hawaiians) state-wide.  It should be obvious who really represents the people.

Let’s remind all elected officials that our issues are important and should never be pushed aside and ignored.  Hawaiians make up 20% of the population and in the last several elections have had a high voter turn-out rate of 75%, despite the fact that Hawaii has one of the lowest voter turn-out rates in the country.  This should be a wake-up call for all elected officials that Hawaiians are aware of their political power at the ballot box.  Imua e Hawai’i nei…

Getting nowhere at the ’06 legislature


Source: May 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Those of you who have tried to get a bill passed at the state legislature know that it can be an exercise in pure frustration.  You can spend years explaining the facts to legislators and still get absolutely nowhere.  Although the legislative process is supposed to give all ideas a fair shot at getting passed, the brutal truth is that all it takes is one committee chair to ruin years of hard work.

For the past three years, OHA has been lobbying to pass a bill (currently Senate Bill 916) which would allow trustees with at least five years of service with the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) to buy-back credit for their prior service.  SB 916 is just a housekeeping measure that would correct an oversight in a previous bill passed in 2002.  In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a single reason why the bill shouldn’t pass.  Unfortunately, for the past three years, the ERS board, through its Administrator, has lobbied the House not to pass the bill.  For this reason, the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Scott Saiki, refused to even give the bill a hearing. 

This highlights a major flaw in our legislative system.  Obviously, the legislature should not and could not hear all 4,000+ bills that are introduced year-after-year.  However, SB 916 is not a new bill and OHA has been working hard to educate members of the House and Senate about it for the past three years.  The Senate finally agreed that the bill is a good one and sent it over to the House for consideration – and Rep. Saiki promptly ignored it until it missed a deadline and died again in his committee.

It is the height of arrogance for a State Representative to disregard years of hard work by OHA trustees and staff to get the bill passed.  Not to mention the unfairness of not allowing trustees the opportunity to buy-back the years of service when OHA was not part of the state retirement system.  He could have at least given us the courtesy of a straight answer on why he didn’t want to hear the bill, but that’s the problem with politicians nowadays.  They lack courage to state their positions publicly.  Instead of concentrating on doing what is right, they worry about their poll numbers.  I would have respected this Representative more if he’d given the bill a proper hearing and then publicly explained, for the record, why he doesn’t support it.  At least we would have some direction as to how to address his concerns.

One possible explanation for Rep. Saiki’s negative position on the bill is that he mistakenly thinks that it will cost the state money – money they can’t afford.  According to Veryan Allen’s special to the Star-Bulletin (March 5, 2006), “The ERS receives and pays for poor ‘advice’ from a conflicted, mainland consultant that appears to lack the expertise to add value to an institutional portfolio in today’s investment environment.  Back in 1999, ERS assets were $9.7 billion and today they are just $9.6 billion, despite growing liabilities and regular capital contributions, possibly exposing Hawaii taxpayers to having to fund the over $3 billion that is unfunded, according to the most recent ERS financial report.  In six years, a competently advised, properly diversified portfolio should nearly double in asset size.” 

For the record, SB 916 wouldn’t cost the state anything.  The cost for our pension is paid for out of our own pockets and the employer match is paid for by OHA. 

The only way to combat unilateral decisions made by our lawmakers is for all of us to be active and participate in the process.  We need to have the courage to stand up against the abuse of power given to elected officials.  Imua e Hawai’i nei…

No Progress Since February 2002

By Rowena Akana
June 2002

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA

The Legislative session ended on May 2, 2002. OHA had some victories and some disappointments. I am happy to report that the bill fixing the legislative problems which held up our ability to give grants passed the legislature and is on the Governor’s desk for approval. With his approval, OHA will be able to release a substantial sum of monies, which had been tied up, for grants to various Hawaiian entities.

I am also happy to report that the legislature passed the bill which allows OHA trustees to join the State Retirement System. Finally, making Hawaiian elected officials equal to other state elected officials.

The disappointment came with OHA’s revenues. Although OHA put forth a bill asking for interim revenues until the ceded lands issue is resolved, and kept it alive until the very end, the legislature found that it did not have the funds to pay the interim revenue, even though this same legislature gave the Japanese Cultural Center $8 million to bail them out of their money problems.

The Hawaii Supreme Court made it very clear to the State that it is its fuduciary obligation to the Hawaiians. We must continue to ask for our fair share of the ceded lands, whether it be through interim revenue, another revenue stream formula, or some sort of settlement. It ultimately may be necessary to take the State to court to force them to pay the Hawaiians their fair share of the ceded lands.

Since the new leadership took over the OHA board in February, there has been NO discussion on how to make up lost revenues or what the strategy will be to stop the bleeding. The lack of leadership of OHA is disappointing not only to those of us who have worked hard to try and resolve these land and revenue issues, but also to beneficiaries. Where is the plan? There has been no direction from this Chair on how to proceed or to plan for the future. All programs being worked on now were from the previous leadership. So, what’s new?

The issue of tying the ceded lands resolution to the ceded land inventory surfaced this past session, again. OHA and the State already know what lands produce income. Requiring a full inventory is only a stall tactic to withhold payment to the Hawaiians. Fortunately, this bill died, but we must be ever virgilant to make sure it does not resurface or gain momentum in the next session.

On another note, I am pleased to report that our FANNIE MAE loan program is progressing and with workshops to educate our beneficiaries more Hawaiians will become homeowners. We hope to have the kick off for the loan program on May 29th with a full press conference. It is anticipated that we will be able to help many of our Hawaiian beneficiaries by leveraging our monies through FANNIE MAE. This, in conjunction with our efforts to produce reasonable manufactured housing should put many of our low to middle income Hawaiian famiies in homes. I thank Doug McWilliams of FANNIE MAE for his tireless efforts in helping our Hawaiian community, and our OHA staffer, Patti Tancayo, for all her hard work with the FANNIE MAE project.

A big Mahalo to the leadership of the state legislature for taking the time to speak to me and our Administrator about our bills. In particular, Speaker Calvin Say, Chair Dwight Takamine, Chair Eric Hamakawa, Senate President Bobby Bunda, Chair Brian Taniguchi, Chair Jonathan Chun, Rep. Joseph Souki, Senator Colleen Hanabusa, the Hawaiian Caucus and the Republican Caucus for their efforts in getting our two bills passed. However, the bigger picture is our ceded lands revenue and getting the Akaka Bill passed by Congress. For without federal recognition the suits against OHA will not be resolved.

Thank you for all of your support–those of you who have continued to be supportive in the Community.

Legislative Kokua Critical to Fix OHA’s Money Woes

By: Pat Omandam
January 22, 2002

Source: Star Bulletin

The Office lost millions of dollars in revenue from ceded lands. 

If ever the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs needed the kokua of the state Legislature, this is the year.

With no annual revenue from ceded or public trust lands and a legal opinion barring it from distributing any grants, OHA needs a legislative fix for these problems if it wants to fully help Hawaiians.

“I think that the legislators that we’ve talked to have a good sense of where everything is, and I think they’d like to resolve some of these issues,” said OHA Vice Chairwoman Rowena Akana, head of OHA’s legislative committee.

“I look to them to be fair in resolving these very critical issues,” she said. “After all, OHA has been around 20 years. It’s not as if you can swipe us up in one fell swoop.”

At the top of OHA’s legislative package is a way to address a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling Sept. 12 that struck down a state law giving OHA 20 percent of ceded-land revenues collected by the state. The court did not question using ceded-land revenue to better conditions of native Hawaiians but pointed out that particular law had a disclaimer that declared it void if it conflicted with federal law.

The justices said it conflicted with a federal law governing state airport revenue, and ruled the state Legislature must come up with a new law to pay OHA ceded-land revenues.

Akana said the loss of millions of dollars in annual revenue from the state has forced the OHA board to reassess programs and look for ways to downsize so it can preserve its $300 million native trust, the only source of income it has right now.

Despite a state budget shortfall of $330 million this fiscal year, trustees have submitted a bill asking for an interim ceded-land revenue payment of $17 million next year. State Rep. Ezra Kanoho (D, Lihue), a member of the legislative Hawaiian caucus, said Hawaiian lawmakers believe the money is warranted and will work to get it passed this legislative session.

“I think it’s recognized that OHA is due something, and it would be politically correct to come up with a figure,” he said yesterday.

“If not $17 million, particularly in this very difficult financial times, we’ll try to come up with something. What that something is, I’m not sure,” Kanoho said.

Meanwhile, OHA also seeks a waiver from the state procurement laws. A Sept. 25 opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office advised trustees not to release any further grants because those expenditures did not go through the state procurement code’s competitive bid process and therefore may be illegal.

OHA’s grant-making authority was questioned by the state Procurement Office in December 2000 and by state Auditor Marion Higa in April 2001.

As a result, OHA was forced to hold $800,000 in grants last year, which included money to Alu Like Inc. and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

And the wait continues.

“Literally, we can’t give out money away,” Akana said. “It’s so ridiculous.”

OHA trustees also seek legislation so they can join the state Employees’ Retirement System, something they have pushed for several years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s February 2000 decision in the Rice vs. Cayetano case ruled that OHA was a state agency, so trustees can use that to argue it should be allowed to join the ERS.

OHA’s 2002 Legislative Package

By Trustee Rowena Akana
January 18, 2002

Source Letter to Editor

On September 12, 2001, the Hawaii State Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to the Hawaiians when they struck down Act 304, which gave OHA 20% of the ceded land revenues collected by the State to be used for Hawaiian beneficiaries.

Without a steady flow of income to sustain all of our programs, we trustees must now reassess our current programs and look at ways to down size to preserve our trust assets.

While the Supreme Court may have struck down the mechanism for payments to Hawaiians, they did declare that the state still must fulfill its constitutional obligation to the Hawaiian people. They also gave the legislature the charge of amending Act 304. Until this is completed, there will be NO payments made to OHA by the state.

OHA will ask the legislature this year for an interim revenue amount until Act 304 is resolved. Because a formula based on revenues has been so problematic for OHA and the state, we must consider, in the very near future, to settle the ceded land claims with the state. This would allow the Hawaiian people the opportunity to have a land base on which to build our nation.

The second OHA bill asks the legislature to adopt a waiver from the state procurement laws. Because of an attorney general opinion, OHA is no longer able to give money to 501 C 3 programs. OHA is unable at this time to give any grants out to anyone. This opinion has basically stopped all flow of money from OHA to any organization or group asking for funds.

The third bill addresses the need to revisit Act 304 as directed by the Supreme Court of Hawaii.

The fourth bill allows the OHA trustees the ability to join the State Retirement System. For 20 years the trustees have NOT been allowed to join the State Retirement System.

At the Federal level: the Federal piece of legislation known as the Akaka Bill is slated to be heard in the Spring of 2002 in the Congress. While there may not be total agreement on the language of this bill, it is very important that Hawaiians receive federal recognition from the United States. Without this recognition we cannot proceed to nationhood.

On another note: I am happy to announce that within the next 30 days OHA will:

1. Increase out business loan amount to $250,000.

2. Partner in building 45 housing units in Kapolei.

3. Develop a partnership with FANNIE MAE to allow ALL Hawaiians to borrow money for home mortgages for down payments and closing costs at a reduced interest rate below the prime rate.

4. We will continue to work to develop a health initiative for our kupuna.

We ask for your kokua, this legislative session, to help us resolve some very critical issues for our people. Mahalo Ke Akua