Having had the opportunity to visit a number of Neighbor Islands this past year for a variety of purposes allowed a nostalgic, but insightful, look back into the successes and missteps of government in Hawaii.

Holo holo to the Big Island reminded one that government cannot create jobs nor run a business successfully as evidenced by the Kohala Task Force of the early 1970’s. Kohala Sugar was one of the first sugar operations that failed and state government decided it could save jobs by stepping in with all sorts of ideas to replace the agricultural activity. Unfortunately, while they sought advice from the private sector, public officials rarely followed that advice. As a result, millions of state dollars literally went down the drain.

Over the years private entrepreneurship and creativity of those who relocated to the Kohala Coast and Hawi on the Big Island created a vibrant community of artists of locally made products which now are marketed on the world market.

Then there was the effort at the opposite end as residents of Kauai protested the development of a shoreline property in the mid-1980’s fearing the destruction of a way of life for that community. The development proposed to build a new resort along the eastern coastline of Kauai fronting a favorite surfing spot. Protestors got the question on the ballot to prohibit the development and were successful in stopping it.

But in the aftermath of the defeat of the development, residents of the Garden Island realized that with its demise there were few opportunities for employment and more and more of their children began planning on leaving their home in paradise for opportunities either on Oahu or outside the state. Although there were still remnants of the plantation economy, residents realized that there were few opportunities for new industries and, therefore, new jobs.

Again, those in government attempted to search for alternative ideas of entrepreneurship and subsidized various ventures, but to no avail. A couple of years later, local leaders put another question on the ballot allowing for the development of what was then known as Nukolii. This time residents recognized that while further development of the visitor infrastructure was probably not the most desirable, the visitor industry did provide hope in creating the jobs Kauai’s next generation of workers need.

Today, watching the shuttle buses cart visitors from the airport to their hotels or seeing the air cargo containers lined up at Lihue Airport filled with goods from Kauai’s small businesses or the meals and refreshments prepared by Kauai businesses that will be served aboard flights out of Lihue makes one smile with satisfaction that at least those who want to remain on Kauai can now do so as a result of the visitor industry.

Fast forward to a more contemporary challenge of those living on Maui where water has become the center of controversy. Late last year the issue of diversion of the water from the East Maui irrigation streams for use by the sugar industry in central Maui pitted traditional taro farmers against the fading sugar industry. Dozens of taro farmers claimed that because of the diversion of the water they could not continue their traditional planting of lo=i. But lo and behold, when a study was done, actually only three of the dozen or so protesting farmers have lost the use of the water, while returning the water to their traditional streams actually would have deprived the other farmers from the water they were using.

But what it comes down to is the opposition to drilling additional wells on Maui because providing more water translates into further development of the Valley Island, something those who have migrated to Maui in recent years do not want. However, as it is reported, Maui utilizes only 25% of the huge water reserve located in the wells beneath the Island.

While those who oppose the development of wells that will provide enough water for all of the Island as well as future development, it is the very people who have a right to live on Maui who are being deprived of that opportunity. It is well known that while many Hawaiians have been awarded homestead leases in Upcountry Maui, many cannot build their dream homes because they are still waiting – as long as ten years or more – for their water meters because there is an insufficient water supply.

As the end of this year draws close, let us remember the mistakes we have made in the past that have hampered Hawaii’s economic prosperity because public officials have acted in the “name” of the public good.


About the author: Lowell Kalapa is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.

About the Author