Are you satisfied with the status quo?

`Ano`ai kakou…  After serving on legendary boards that worked hard to build OHA and strengthen its ability to serve our beneficiaries, it frustrates me that we’ve become so stagnated in the last few years.  If you don’t agree that OHA is standing still, ask yourself this – When’s the last time you’ve seen OHA in the news?

In the past, OHA accomplished big things with less staff and less money.  OHA was frequently in the news doing important things that mattered like establishing a state-wide property tax exemption for Native Hawaiians living on Kuleana lands (an effort which I spearheaded); providing $4.4 million in grants to Hawaiian Focused Public Charter Schools; preserving 25,000 acres of Native Hawaiian rainforest known as Wao Kele o Puna on Hawaii Island; and saving the 1,875-acre Waimea Valley.

We also haven’t been getting anywhere at the state legislature.  This was one of the first years I can think of that none of the bills in the OHA legislative package passed.  This should be a cause for concern that OHA’s clout at the legislature is waning.

OHA is the only advocate at the legislature for all Native Hawaiian issues, such as water rights, gathering rights, or land rights.  Few organizations have the resources, staff and expertise to speak to legislators on our beneficiaries’ behalf.  If OHA doesn’t do something fast to reverse its shrinking clout at the legislature, caused in no small part by inconsistent decisions and our Administration making decisions for Trustees, we will be in danger of becoming inconsequential, insignificant and insolvent.

There is so much we can do to help our beneficiaries who are suffering under the lack of affordable housing, the high cost of living, lack of fresh local produce, and the continuing degradation of our fragile environment.  We just seem to lack the will to do anything.  I miss the passion and drive that previous Trustees had in years past.  Sure we got into a few scraps with each other, but we got things done and our hearts were always in the right place.  Everything we did was for the benefit of our people.

The Board of Trustees needs new energy

We must not be content with just sitting back and letting the Administration plod along without any direction.  We need to get the fire back in our bellies and go back to doing big things.  If we don’t, we will no longer be relevant to our beneficiaries and the state might decide to get rid of us by transferring all of our assets to the general fund.

So this election, seek change and elect new blood!  Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.  Elect New People!  Electing the same Trustees will not bring any meaningful change to OHA!  Aloha Ke Akua.

The need for fiscal responsibility

`Ano`ai kakou…  On May, 30, 2012, the Star Advertiser reported that the state Council on Revenues lowered the revenue projection for next fiscal year, which prompted Governor Abercrombie’s administration to cut back the state’s spending.

This is not surprising.  When revenues are down, everyone cuts back on spending.  Everyone except OHA.

Trustees Keep on Spending

Our new CEO, Ka Pouhana Kamana’opono Crabbe, has been working diligently to cut our budget wherever possible and to streamline operations to save money, but there are still Trustees who insist on spending more.

This extra spending puts enormous pressure on our dwindling resources at a time when OHA has already accepted major financial commitments such as Waimea Valley, ownership of the Kaka’ako Makai Settlement Properties, and other commitments such as the $3 million/per year for 30-years debt service for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and funding for organizations such as Alu Like, Inc. and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation that have made their way into our annual budget.  These are huge amounts of revenues being contracted to these entities.  Add to this the grants and annual operational expenses and we are maxed out.

A Constant Issue

Overspending has been a longstanding problem at OHA.  In April of 2004, our money committee chair asked for a legal opinion that would allow OHA to spend more of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund.  He even questioned whether it’s even appropriate to build the Trust at all.

I have consistently argued against OHA’s 5% spending policy and strongly recommended that it be reduce instead to 4%, at least until the economy fully recovers again.  Even Kamehameha Schools operates at a lower spending rate than 5%.

Fiscal Restraint

In these tough economic times, there are nearly a hundred nonprofit organizations asking for OHA grants each year.  While giving the money away will make OHA very popular in the short-term, we should be focusing on the long-term health of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund.

We have worked carefully for two decades to build the Trust to over $300 million.  I would hate to see this relatively modest amount shrink down to nothing in shortsighted spending sprees that forces us to realign our budget several times a year and draw more money from our corpus (trust).  What other organization does this?

Greater Transparency

State law (Hawaii Revised Statutes §10-14.5 on budget preparation and submission; auditing, Section b) requires that: “The (OHA) board shall provide opportunities for beneficiaries in every county to participate in the preparation of each biennial and supplemental budget of the office of Hawaiian affairs. These opportunities shall include an accounting by trustees of the funds expended and of the effectiveness of programs undertaken.”

I have recommended time and time again that OHA needs to take its proposed budget out to the community so that our beneficiaries can give us their input as well as tell us what their needs are.

This was the common practice of OHA in the past and I believe it helped OHA to develop a budget that was more in-sync with our beneficiaries’ concerns.

I will continue to press OHA’s money committee chair to take our next proposed budget out to the community, as required by law, including the neighbor islands.

So which path will OHA’s leadership take?

It has long been understood that OHA is a “temporary” organization that will someday be dissolved and its assets transferred over to the new Hawaiian Nation.

So the critical policy question is: “Will OHA continue to be a ‘temporary’ organization that will give the Hawaiian Nation the assets it needs to survive or will OHA continue to spend freely and shrink the Trust Fund?”

OHA desperately needs Trustees who will make the tough decision to focus on building towards a more permanent, long-term goal instead of taking the easy and popular path of short-sighted spending.

In this election year, OHA beneficiaries should look carefully at the candidates running for OHA Trustee and choose individuals who will take OHA in a more fiscally responsible direction.

What has been sorely lacking is for Trustees to prioritize our spending and focus on the things that our beneficiaries need and NOT use OHA’s “Strategic Plan,” which is at best a wish list of too many things and does not focus on the top priorities of our people.

NOT listing priorities leaves the door wide open for certain Trustees to continue to fund anything and everything while neglecting meaningful programs in healthcare and housing.

As long as trustees keep drawing money out of our corpus, or trust fund, we are taking money away from future generations of Hawaiians.  After all, what is a nation without assets?  Aloha Ke Akua.

Audubon’s Departure from Waimea Valley

By: Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Letter to the Editor, February 2007

I write you in response to the resolution introduced by Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz regarding Waimea Valley and the Office of Hawaiian Affiars (OHA).  I truly appreciate the efforts of Councilman Dela Cruz, who came forth early on to help save Waimea Valley. 

I believe that what needs to be stressed about the Audubon’s departure from Waimea Valley is that it was not OHA who stopped the negotiations – it was the Audubon Society’s decision.

Make no mistake, the Audubon Society is without a doubt a national treasure itself because of all the good work that they do for the environment.  However, in the case of Waimea Valley, OHA’s primary mission is to work towards bettering the conditions of Hawaiians and Native Hawaiians and to protect and preserve the valley for future generations and to protect the Native Hawaiian trust.

As trustees, we are held to a higher standard than other elected government officials.  We must always be certain that our investments, whether it is in land or the stock market, are protected from litigation in order to keep the trust whole.  That said, there were criteria that OHA had to follow and we were required by law to include them in the terms of the proposed lease.  The Audubon Society, after their own careful consideration as a national organization, decided that perhaps the lease for Waimea with OHA may not be in their own best interests.  It should be stressed that OHA will be eternally grateful to the Audubon, the City Council, and the community for their assistance and perseverance in helping us acquire Waimea valley.

OHA is currently conducting a worldwide search to find another entity to take on the task of managing the valley and we would be more than happy to accept suggestions from the community and professionals who would like to share their mana’o.

We ask for everyone’s patience as we and the Audubon Society work through this transitional period.  Our goal is to successfully manage the beautiful valley and to work with the community to ensure that this occurs, no matter how long it takes.  OHA is committed to seeing this project through for everyone’s benefit.  I would like to personally thank the Audubon Society for its participation in preserving Waimea Valley for all of us.

Compromise needed for Waimea Valley management


Source: January 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  On September 21, 2006, the Trustees discussed whether OHA should sign a long term lease with the National Audubon Society to manage Waimea Valley.  I, along with Trustees Donald Cataluna and former Trustee Dante Carpenter, brought up several concerns regarding the Audubon’s management of the valley.

The Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.  Although they do excellent work in fulfilling their mission, they lack expertise in several key areas with regards to the proper management of Waimea Valley.

For example, the Audubon lacks the business expertise to commercially develop Waimea Falls Park’s existing restaurant complex and make it economically self-sufficient.  OHA has provided the Audubon with operating funds, but they still plan to ask OHA for capital improvement grants.  While the Trustees of OHA are strongly committed to the preservation of Waimea Valley, we also have the fiduciary responsibility to make sure that it doesn’t become a money pit.

The Audubon also lacks expertise in Hawaiian history, language, and cultural practices, which are crucial to the proper management of the valley.  Whoever manages the valley must also successfully involve the various community groups that fought to save the valley in the first place.  The valley will not prosper without their continued support.  At the writing of this article, the community is not comfortable with Audubon being in complete control of the valley.

I also have a serious concern with giving the Audubon a 30 year lease.  Who can say for certain where OHA will be in 10-years?  Now that the Democrats have taken control of Congress, federal recognition and nationhood for Native Hawaiians is imminent.  Will it be fair to the new Native Hawaiian governing entity to lock Waimea Valley into a long term lease?  We need to look at breaking the 30-year lease up into 10-year intervals, with a review of their performance at every five years.

The Audubon is also not negotiating in good faith.  In January of 2006, OHA was one of the five public and private groups that agreed to contribute money to buy Waimea Valley.  OHA contributed $2.9 million and advanced a total of $1 million for the National Audubon Society (which they would pay us back).  However, the Audubon later said that they would only pay the $1 million back if we gave them an acceptable (as determined by their board) long term lease to the valley. 

In order to save the plan to purchase the valley, OHA paid Audubon’s $1 million share, with a side agreement that they would pay us back after an “acceptable” long term lease was signed.  The Trustees were not included in these discussions.  I found out about it at our September 2006 board meeting.  So now, the Audubon is basically holding our $1 million hostage.

The Audubon is currently working from an extended June 30, 2006 interim lease, which may be extended again as OHA’s administration continues to work things out.  OHA’s new Land Division is preparing a new draft of the lease for review by Audubon.  Unfortunately, that draft isn’t ready yet and I haven’t been able to read it.  All of the Trustees need to read it before anyone at OHA signs it.  I am certainly looking forward to the Administrator’s update to the Trustees in the New Year.

With so many competing interests regarding Waimea Valley’s sacred culture sites, endangered species, its continued use as a park, and public access, a solution that will satisfy everyone will not be easy.  However, with a little patience, understanding, and cooperation, I am hoping that we can come to an agreement that will make the Audubon, OHA, and the residents of Waimea happy.  Otherwise, we should look at putting out a request for proposals (RFP) to see who else might be interested in managing this valley for OHA.  Have a prosperous and safe New Year!

Mahalo City Council


Source: February 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Special thanks go out to the nine City Council members who, on December 7, 2005, voted to reject a settlement proposal that would have allowed private homes to be built in pristine Waimea Valley.  The crucial vote paved the way for a new negotiated settlement between all interested parties that will eventually allow OHA to take ownership of the valley.  Those community members who testified before the City Council to save the valley should be proud of a job well-done.  As a Hawaiian, it fills my heart with joy that our state motto is alive and well.  Ua mau ke ea o ka aina I ka pono

The new $14.1 million settlement will be paid for by the U.S. Army ($3.5 million, negotiated by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land), OHA ($2.9 million), DLNR ($1.6 million), the Audubon Society ($1 million, advanced by OHA), and the City ($5.1 million).  Once the deal is approved by the City Council, Waimea Valley will finally be preserved in perpetuity.  I am personally elated for the North Shore residents and environmental activists who brought this issue to OHA.  None of this would have happened if it were not for their persistent efforts.

OHA will continue to be vigilant about former Ali’i lands that are up for sale.  Negotiations are currently taking place between all parties concerned to preserve Moanalua Valley.  I have no doubt we will succeed if we can generate the same cooperation and support that saved Waimea Valley.