State Auditor Les Kondo says the “working group” launched by House Speaker Scott Saiki last month to review the operations of Kondo’s office is apparently searching for a reason to oust him.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Kondo again questioned the legal authority of the working group to essentially audit the auditor, and asked that the working group suspend its review of his office until his questions are answered.

In the letter to former City Auditor Edwin Young, who is leading Saiki’s working group, Kondo alleged that “from your questions to me and based on the people you are interviewing, it seems the Working Group’s purpose is to find some ’cause’ to support the Speaker’s apparent objective to remove me.”

State Auditor Les Kondo speaks about the OHA audit.
State Auditor Les Kondo at a 2018 briefing for the media on a report on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Kondo says a review of his office ordered by House Speaker Scott Saiki is apparently designed to remove him. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Saiki did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, but Kondo has reason to be alarmed by the unusual machinations in the state House recently.

Saiki issued a memo to House members on Jan. 14 announcing he planned to appoint the working group to undertake what amounts to “an audit of the Auditor’s Office.”

He said the review was triggered by “unnecessary litigation” that involved the auditor as well as missed deadlines for some audit reports. Saiki announced he would appoint Young, former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and former state Director of Finance Wes Machida to the working group.

Less than a week later Saiki introduced House Bill 1, which would cut the auditor’s annual budget by more than 50%. Kondo has said budget cuts on that order of magnitude would “basically gut” the office.

Five days later, Saiki and Democratic House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti introduced another measure to give lawmakers control over the auditor’s salary. Currently the auditor’s salary is set by  statute and cannot be changed during the auditor’s term of office.

The auditor’s office was established under the state Constitution, and Kondo said the framers of the constitution deliberately created safeguards to prevent removal of auditors “for political reasons.”

Kondo was appointed to his position by the House and Senate, and he is now about five years into an eight-year term as auditor. Lawmakers can remove the auditor for cause with a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate, but Kondo contends he has done a good job in his position.

Kondo has asked Young to explain under what authority the working group was created, and also what it is supposed to accomplish.

In his Wednesday letter Kondo said he has received no response, “and, because of the importance of protecting the office’s independence and credibility, ask that the Working Group suspend its work until the questions are resolved.”

Rona Suzuki in 2020. Screenshot from Hawaii Senate

Kondo also questioned the role of former acting state Tax Director Rona Suzuki. Gov. David Ige withdrew Suzuki’s nomination as tax director in July when it appeared she would not be confirmed by the Senate, and Saiki later hired her as a senior advisor in his office.

According to Kondo, Young forwarded an email string to Kondo that showed Suzuki was “working with and directing the Working Group” in its efforts to find reports that had been submitted late to the Legislature.

Kondo wrote that he believed the working group “was supposed to be working independently and objectively. However, it appears that the Speaker and his office are actively assisting the working group in its efforts to find issue with our work.”

Suzuki also did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Read Kondo’s letter below.

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