It was reported that State officials brokered a series of meetings on Molokai to sort out community concerns about the recent arrival of an American Safari Cruise Yacht, the Safari Explorer. And at first this might seem like a good thing, right? Well, lets take a look at what’s really happened.

On Thanksgiving weekend, a small group of protesters physically blockaded our harbor and prevented a 36 passenger commercial eco-tour vessel from docking on Molokai. When they successfully docked the next morning, guests boarded a passenger van provided by a Molokai vendor. Their first stop: to learn about our host culture from a local Hawaiian cultural practitioner whose family lineage dates back over 1400 years. While en route they were intercepted, first by a vehicle driving slower than the posted speed limit (laws prevents passenger vans from overtaking vehicles on our roadways), then by a large tree felled across the road, freshly downed by a saw. A protester was there recording this scene with a camcorder and the van was advised that it was impassable, and to turn around.

Since then, no one has been held to account for their actions and an unusual set of negotiations have taken place between State officials and a special interest group to stop this vessel from coming to Molokai, preventing the exchange of lawful commerce until January 17, 2012. Curiously, the protesters made an agreement with the State to “allow” the cruise yacht to dock thereafter. Keep in mind, this vessel and all the related Molokai businesses are in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, but were never consulted or invited to participate in these negotiations.

There are many small Molokai businesses that have invested dozens of thousands of dollars in equipment (remember those passenger vans?), infrastructure, and have hired employees to support our newly invited guests. These investments and business plans were the result of five years of community outreach and planning, and adherence to the legal permitting process.

Because of these negotiations, our community and local businesses will have suffered a combined total loss of over $70,000, not including what our guests would spend on their own walking up and down main street. These figures may not seem vital, but for our fragile economy, this could mean the difference between make or break for some.

Those responsible talk about lack of a community process and the need for control, and maybe that’s something that needs to be addressed. The issue though isn’t whether or not the community should be involved, rather the process by which it happens. Throughout history, evolution and adaptability have been the keys to survival, and for our community, as we evolve and adapt, we must do so in an orderly fashion. How do we get from where we are to where we want to be? The answer lies in the rule of law. It is within this clearly defined framework that the method exists.

But what we’re seeing is something completely different. An unofficial group has been granted authority to implement an arbitrary process with no foundation in the law. This group gets to determine the who, when and where of otherwise lawful business practices. And that’s just not right. Who or what’s next?

The questions of why have gone largely unanswered. And that’s why we need some definitive leadership right now, from those we’ve entrusted to look out for our best interests as a community, to stand up and say enough is enough and help us get back on track. Leadership that inspires us to interact with one another in an orderly and honorable fashion, one that is inclusive…Hawaii style. And if the questions can’t be answered, then lets just move forward with the understanding that the law shall guide us through the process.

But we need support in order to do so. The kind of support that has its foundation in the rule of law. Otherwise what we have is an arbitrary takeover of our community by government-sanctioned special interests.

At the end of the day, we need to instill both citizen and investor confidence on Molokai with a commitment from the State and County to stay involved, engaged and be ready to hold accountable those that abuse; so we can build a community that works for everyone, not just a select few, that will allow us to become less dependent on the State and Maui County, and grow our fragile economy, to contribute to the overall success of a well-balanced Hawaii.


An honest discussion about Molokai’s stark realities:

  • Unemployment currently at 15.5%, last month 17.5%
  • 60% live under the poverty level
  • Over 30% live on government assistance programs, which translates to:
    • Over 2100 residents
    • Receiving $454,000.00 a month
    • $5.5 million a year

Yet contrary to what others may be led to believe, this is not because our people don’t want to work, it’s because there are no jobs to be had. The realism these figures illustrate is that we can’t simply fix ourselves from the inside-out, we need help from the outside-in, and it’s complex. Subsistence living supplements and enhances, but we all know it does not provide the needed solution to fix these realities.


About the author: Robert Stephenson is a Molokai resident, small business owner and President of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce.