Na Leo O Na Kanaka: OHA Beneficiaries Speak Out!
by OHA Trustee Dr Kelii Akina, PhD, June, 2017, Ka Wai Ola
Since my election as trustee at large in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, I've been impressed by the role our beneficiaries play in guiding OHA to fulfill its mandate to serve the Hawaiian people. Beneficiaries from all walks of life have spoken out with deep aloha and yet critical concern for the direction of OHA. These voices have ranged from Germaine Meyers, a Hawaiian Homesteader from Nanakuli to the heiress Princess Abigail Kawananakoa. It’s thrilling to see the engagement of stakeholders who care deeply about Hawai'i and her people. As I listen, three messages for the trustees have been articulated loud and clear.
1. Clean up our act!
Beneficiaries are calling for higher levels of transparency and accountability, as demonstrated by their presence at our board meetings, and their engagement with other state agencies and the courts over a variety of concerns. These concerns include the way we contract and procure vendors, exercise oversight of our LLCs, and make available information the public has the right to access. It is my daunting responsibility to serve as chair of the special Audit Advisory Committee, tasked with setting up the most thorough audit for fraud, waste and abuse in OHA's history. I am grateful for the kokua and commitment to the audit, demonstrated by fellow trustees and OHA staff who love and work on behalf of the Hawaiian people. This special audit can only succeed as a team effort.
2. Spend OHA's funds on what Hawaiians really need.
Beneficiaries look at the conditions of the Hawaiian people. They see homelessness, a Hawaiian homes waiting list of over 26,000, and some of the worst indicators of health and other social ills. OHA is clearly not the cause of these problems, but our people look to OHA as the solution for these problems. Increasingly, OHA's spending priorities have come under scrutiny by beneficiaries.
Nationhood, or political self-determinism, may be a cherished value for some in the Hawaiian community, but most Hawaiians see OHA as having a different kuleana. Most want OHA to prioritize what Trustee Bob Lindsey calls ''bread and butter issues."
As Trustee Lindsey wrote in the July 2016 edition of Ka Wai Ola: "Our lahui, when surveyed in 1978 (OHA's founding) and recently (four months ago) have made it clear; 'bread and butter' issues (education, health, housing and jobs) are what's important to them. It wants OHA to focus on these issues. In 2016, the majority of respondents see nation building as a bottom of the barrel issue. OHA must refocus, reboot and rethink its basic priorities if it is to be in alignment with the wishes of our people."
3. Tighten our belts.
As the cost of living rises in Hawai'i, sending many locals away and impoverishing others, beneficiaries have voiced that they want to see OHA spending each dollar efficiently. Spending outside of our means will not accomplish the mission of OHA. To that extent, it's been gratifying to see beneficiaries weigh in on OHA's budget process, to encourage tightening our belts and cutting back on anything that is not necessary in order to preserve that which is necessary.
At the same time, we have been urged to do everything possible to grow the resources OHA has, such as Kaka 'ako Makai, in order to increase the wealth available to serving the Hawaiian people. Many are watching eagerly to see how we develop and manage our investments.
Clearly, OHA's beneficiaries play a significant role in shaping the direction of this institution, and, rightly so. They are the voices to which we must listen. They are the reason OHA exists.
Trustee Akina welcomes feedback. Contact him at TrusteeAkina@oha.org or (808) 594-1976