About the Author

Gene Ward

Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai) is a former entrepreneur trainer and consultant with the United Nations in Africa and former Peace Corps volunteer in Asia. He represents the newly numbered District 18 per the 2022 Reapportionment Commission Maps.

As a member of the loyal opposition and minority party in Hawaii, I know how much majority legislative leaders hate to be criticized or challenged. In the case of Les Kondo, the Hawaii state auditor, it’s even worse because he’s the watchdog that makes sure that government agencies follow the law, despite what politicians say to him or about him.

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Kondo is presently in a wrestling match at the Legislature, particularly with a House investigative committee that wants to know what he is up to with two recent audits, namely the Department of Land and Natural Resources special land development fund and the Agriculture Development Corp.

Instead of focusing on these state agencies for not doing their jobs, the committee has been focusing on the person of Les Kondo and questioning his competency and character — the classic ad hominem approach of “attack the person, not his argument.”

And there are probably some reasons for this because Kondo is known as a straight arrow at the Capitol and has a history of dealing with legislators, especially during his earlier tenure as the head of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. He upset legislators by taking away “unlimited gift-giving to legislators” and personally tangled with then-Speaker Joe Souki with his strict interpretation that gifts to legislators could not exceed $25.

Just like Souki despised Kondo’s stingy and strict interpretations, the House investigative committee is now taking Kondo to the legislative woodshed and being hyper-critical of his audits.

Unfortunately, some legislators have the impression that this investigation is actually about the auditor himself — and not about the incompetence and lack of professionalism his audits have uncovered.

Chair Della Au Belatti press conference .
Majority Leader Della Au Belatti led the House Investigative Committee into two state audits that, the author argues, focused too much on the auditor himself. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

For the record, Kondo has a Bachelor of Science in engineering from Northwestern University, a law degree from the University of Hawaii’s Richardson School of Law and has been kept professionally in check by being peer-reviewed every three years by his state auditor peers on the mainland.

Their last peer review of Kondo’s work was in 2019, regarding his audit of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and he passed with flying colors.

Kondo’s job is that of a watchdog and he could never be popular with legislative leaders who do most of their business behind closed doors. The investigative committee made an exhaustive effort by conducting 25 informational briefings, subpoenaing over two dozen witnesses, and reviewing over 26,000 pages of documents — but still ended up focusing on Kondo as the problem.

In short, it appears that the committee opted for “getting mud on Kondo” and personally discrediting him rather than diving into the inefficiencies in state government that waste taxpayers’ money.

‘This Charade’

What has come out of this charade, as well as the final report just released, amounts to unwarranted attacks on Kondo himself and his office that will continue to impact his staff’s morale and productivity.

Equally important, the committee’s report continues to stomp on the auditor’s constitutionally established purpose to be nonpartisan and independent, which is intended to shield the office from political interference — the likes of which he himself is now attempting to fend off.

The final report, while repeating some its earlier accusations about Kondo, just might cause him to seek legal action and take the House Investigative Committee to court.

Interestingly, not a single person on the committee is qualified by either training nor education to judge what an auditor does, or does not do correctly, save one person. That person is Rep. Dale Kobayashi, a licensed CPA with extensive auditing experience, including the time he worked with one of the largest big five accounting firms in the nation.

The committee’s report stomps on the auditor’s constitutionally established purpose to be nonpartisan and independent.

Kobayashi is a licensed (though not now practicing CPA) in Hawaii and is only one of two members (Rep. Val Okimoto also voted “no”) of the investigative committee to vote against the final report. Kobayashi would not sign his name to a report like that — just like he wouldn’t sign his name to an Enron audit.

One possible takeaway from all of this is that the Hawaii State Legislature should let the watchdog auditor Kondo do his job guarding taxpayers’ money. The investigative committee should not be interfering in matters involving his character and style and should accept his critical comments about the inefficiencies of government rather challenging his political correctness.

Another lesson learned is that if the House Investigative Committee was so professionally and objectively concerned about government inefficiencies, I am sure it would have formed an investigative committee to examine HART and the rail project that is costing taxpayers over $12 billion (and growing) — and not be messing with Les Kondo.

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About the Author

Gene Ward

Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai) is a former entrepreneur trainer and consultant with the United Nations in Africa and former Peace Corps volunteer in Asia. He represents the newly numbered District 18 per the 2022 Reapportionment Commission Maps.

Latest Comments (0)

Thank you Rep. Ward for speaking up in defense of Les Kondo and his hard working staff. The whole investigation of the state auditor by these legislators stunk of retaliation from the very beginning.

QBeeOne · 2 years ago

YAY Gene! Although we very rarely agree, you hit the nail on the head on this one. This is a complete witch hunt. I have friends who have known Les Kondo since high school who said he has always been a straight shooter & stand up guy with total integrity. Sounds like somebody's mad their sacred cow slush funds are being uncovered & exposed. Way to go Gene! Way to go Les! Mahalo for looking out for Hawai'i taxpayers!

808hawaii808 · 2 years ago

hang in there Les, don't let em grind you down! Please take em to court, your "adversaries" are lightweights peddling fluff who need to be held to account, for once.

BEN · 2 years ago

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