Completing the Work of Restoring OHA's Credibility
by Keli’i Akina, PhD, Trustee at-large, Ka Wai Ola, Feb 2021
When I first became a Trustee in 2016, OHA's credibility was at an all-time low.
A survey commissioned by the agency in 2015 found that the public regarded OHA as the least favorable of the major Hawaiian-serving organizations, such as Kamehameha Schools, due to perceptions of poor management and failure to represent the Hawaiian people effectively.
Looking back at that time now, as I begin my second term of office in 2021, I am grateful for the significant work OHA has undertaken to restore its reputation. I believe that work is essential to OHA's ability to address the growing needs of the Hawaiian people.
At the heart of OHA's ongoing transformation has been a major push toward greater transparency and sound financial management. Trustees have engaged a number of internal and external audits that have pinpointed areas needing improvement, and they have taken action to implement many of the recommendations resulting from those audits.
Each action step taken to tighten up OHA's financial management can be thought of as an investment in OHA's reputation and credibility.
One important action step taken by the Board of Trustees during my first term was the management and execution of a comprehensive examination of OHA and its limited liability companies, conducted by global accounting firm Clifton Larson Allen (CLA).
The CLA review, a $500,000 investment made by the Board of Trustees, yielded 158 "audit observations." CLA explained these were cases where OHA or its LLCs either did not adhere to statutory requirements or did not follow internal policy, or situations that revealed indicators or "red flags" of fraud, waste and abuse. A sampling of 33 "red flag" transactions alone totaled $7.8 million.
Some of the key recommendations made by CLA as a result of its examination were for OHA to implement a hotline for anonymous reporting of fraud and abuse, to better monitor and document contracts and grants, to establish an internal audit function, and to establish an ongoing audit committee within the agency.
Looking to the future, I am pleased with the direction ORA is going in its transparency and accountability.
The Board of Trustees made an important investment in OHA's future reputation by unanimously agreeing to the CLA examination, and it is up to your Trustees to finish this good work to ensure the agency grows that initial investment. Completing the task of implementing the CLA recommendations will help restore OHA's credibility and result in great benefit to Native Hawaiians.