If the Office of Hawaiian Affairs doesn’t get its act together and do a better job of fulfilling its mission, the Legislature will take action.
That’s the message from a legislative hearing on Thursday where officials from OHA sought to defend their management of the agency’s land and grants in the wake of a scathing audit released in September.
Lawmakers held the briefing at the state Capitol to investigate what progress the semi-autonomous state agency has made since the report was published.
The shadow over OHA comes as the agency is figuring out what to do with its recently acquired large-scale real estate investments. OHA received $200 million worth of property from the state last year in Kakaako and is in the process of researching the best way to develop it.
OHA CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe told lawmakers that the agency agrees generally with the state auditor’s analysis and that the agency has taken steps to improve, including holding land management workshops for trustees and revamping the grant application process.
But the bulk of lawmakers’ criticism centered on an OHA real estate deal earlier this year involving the purchase of a prominent Honolulu design center.
Haunani Apoliona, an OHA trustee, was the deciding vote on the $21.4 million acquisition, despite serving on the board of Bank of Hawaii, the deal’s financier. The state ethics commission found no ethics violation but the state auditor said Apoliona’s vote violated OHA’s investment policy.
Sen. Clayton Hee roasted Crabbe over undisclosed details related to the deal.
“How is it that the conditions of the bank loan are confidential from beneficiaries or from the state of Hawaii?” Hee asked as part of his intense line of questioning.
“I see you have a point, sir, that they do have a right to that information,” he said. Crabbe promised to get Hee more information tomorrow after consulting with OHA’s legal counsel.
Trustees later appeared before the committee and shared some of the business details with Hee, who told Civil Beat he still expects more information.
Sen. Brickwood Galuteria also lambasted officials about the organization’s slow progress on its plan to create a Native Hawaiian governing entity.
“I, for one, would like to see less talk and more action,” he said. “Frankly we don’t like telling OHA what to do, (but) if we don’t see something done we will take the initiative to do it.”
OHA trustee Peter Apo defended OHA’s pace, saying that the agency is about to get into serious discussions regarding Native Hawaiian governance.
“We do feel a sense of urgency,” he said.
Galuteria told Civil Beat after the hearing that he plans to introduce legislation next session to speed up the process after consulting with OHA officials.
The state auditor is required to evaluate OHA every four years. Previous audits have scrutinized OHA’s investment portfolio and how it manages its data.
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