In a rare move on the last day of session, House lawmakers voted Thursday to create an investigative committee to delve into the findings of state audits of the controversial Agribusiness Development Corp. and a state-controlled special land and development fund.

House Resolution 164 establishing the investigative committee cites critical findings of a 2019 audit of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Special Land and Development Fund as well as this year’s audit of the ADC.

The committee will consist of at least five House members who will be appointed by Speaker Scott Saiki, and will have the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony, according to the resolution.

Taro at the University of Hawaii plot located in Waimanalo. 23 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The House on Thursday voted to create an investigative committee to study the operations of the Agribusiness Development Corp., which was found to have records that were in such disarray that they could not be audited. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The committee is to examine the operations and management of the agencies as well as the audit recommendations, and prepare a report by the start of the 2022 session next January.

The House adjourned for the year moments after approving the resolution in a voice vote.

The 2019 audit of the special land fund found that the DLNR did not have a strategic plan for state lands, and lacked complete or coherent policies and procedures that would enable the department to properly manage its leases and revocable permits.

The House resolution quotes the audit finding that “lack of transparency and accountability hinders the administration of the Special Land and Development Fund.”

Meantime, the ADC audit found the corporation has “done little to fill the economic void created by the closure of the sugar and pineapple plantations,” according to the resolution.

The auditor’s report also found the ADC’s financial records were in such disarray that they were “not auditable.”

In an interview after the House adjourned for the year, Saiki said that “the House wanted to follow up on the two audits that were done previously, because both of those program areas are probably in need of some reform.”

State Agribusiness Development Corporation Executive Director James Nakatani said in a written statement Thursday the agency has already begun to take steps recommended by the auditor.

The ADC and its board “have already begun prioritizing all of the Auditor’s recommendations in order develop a short-term implementation plan and a longer term management structure to ensure ADC can function more efficiently and effectively,” he said in his statement.

The ADC this week completed its process for accepting applications for 1,200 acres in Central Oahu, and agriculture-related tenants are scheduled to be selected later this summer. The remaining vacant parcels should be filled by the end of the year, Nakatani wrote.

“We acknowledge there have been challenges, particularly at our Wahiawa properties with previous community concerns,” he said in his statement. “As mentioned during a House briefing earlier this legislative session, we have spent the past year clearing the area of illegal activity, making the land suitable for farming and providing the necessary irrigational improvements.”

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