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Friday, April 1, 2022
Akina: Success of OHA’s Grants Program is a Strong Reason to Increase OHA’s PLT Share
By Keli'i Akina PhD @ 5:22 PM :: 804 Views :: Ethics, OHA

Success of OHA’s Grants Program is a Strong Reason to Increase OHA’s PLT Share

By Keli‘i Akina. Ka Wai Ola, April 1, 2022

When I first became a Trustee in 2016, one of my goals was to work with my fellow Trustees to reform OHA’s Grants Program. At the time, there had been serious concerns over the integrity of the program, including concerns over favoritism.

In 2018, for example, the Hawaiʻi State Office of the Auditor conducted a performance audit of OHA’s Grants Program. Auditor’s Report #18-08 found that competitive grants, which are those grants awarded as a result of a public solicitation process, were not consistently monitored or evaluated. The report also found that a disproportionate amount of OHA funding was being awarded in a non-competitive manner to various causes and individuals.

In 2021, the auditor conducted a follow up to the 2018 report and its accompanying recommendations. By this time, OHA had taken strides to tighten its monitoring and evaluation processes, implementing all but one of the recommendations from the 2018 Auditor’s report. Bottom line, OHA trustees took seriously the concerns of the 2018 report and used it to improve the grants program.

Looking back, the Hawaiian community and the entire state can now be proud of the work that OHA has accomplished to instill integrity and effectiveness in its grants program. Former OHA Grants Manager Maile Luʻuwai, CEO Sylvia Hussey and the grants team are to be commended for effectively implementing the directives of the Board of Trustees. This is a great example of using the auditor’s constructive criticism as a roadmap for improvement. Rather than shoot the messenger, OHA applied what the auditor shared and it resulted in a fair, impartial and well-run grants program that OHA can truly be proud of.

OHA’s grants program today serves a broad segment of the Hawaiian community. In 2021, OHA awarded over $16 million in grant funding, even more than it received in Public Lands Trust (PLT) revenues. This figure includes funding of programs ranging from Native Hawaiian-focused charter schools to the protection of iwi kūpuna, and from family support services to support of Native Hawaiian farmers.

Relatedly, it’s well known that OHA currently receives only $15.1 million in PLT revenues, despite strong evidence that OHA is entitled to much, much more. As in past years, OHA proposed legislation in 2022 to increase its pro-rata share of PLT revenues. OHA’s PLT bill died, although Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole introduced a separate proposal, Senate Bill 2021.

What is not as well-known, unfortunately, is all of the behind-the-scenes work that OHA has undertaken to ensure that every penny OHA receives from PLT revenues goes out to organizations and programs that directly support the Hawaiian community, via its Grants Program.

Simultaneously, OHA has taken a good look at its operations and made difficult decisions that resulted in a major reorganization of internal structure and personnel. In doing so, OHA walked the walk, and sent a message that additional PLT revenue would be spent wisely and distributed directly to the Hawaiian community (through the bolstered Grants Program), rather than on overhead.

It has been a long journey from where OHA’s Grants Program started to where it is now, and years of outside scrutiny from the State Auditor has been a major catalyst for the vast improvements that have been made.

At the time of this writing, I do not know what will become of our PLT efforts at the legislature in 2022. But at least we took significant, meaningful action in our own house, to prove that OHA would be a good steward of the additional funding.

Your feedback on this column is welcomed at TrusteeAkina@oha.org.

  *   *   *   *   *

Returning to OHA

By Mililani Trask, Ka Wai Ola, April 1, 2022

A few weeks ago, I began to receive calls from beneficiaries in Hawaiʻi and on the U.S. continent, urging me to consider returning to OHA to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Mr. Keola Lindsey. They were angry and frustrated.

Several beneficiaries expressed concern over the state’s ongoing effort to diminish the Hawaiian share of revenues paid to OHA from the Public Lands Trust (PLT) and the refusal of the legislature to support the OHA Bill on the PLT this 2022 Session. Many Hawaiians raised ‘historic’ problems including the failure of the State of Hawaiʻi to address and implement the recommendations of the Federal-State Task Force on Hawaiian Homelands.

These concerns are the same as mine. For years OHA Trustees have tried and failed to resolve the disagreement with the state over the PLT’s lands, resources and revenues. While I am not averse to working with the State Legislature on these matters, it is clear that we have not made progress on these critical issues and that the state continues to sidestep the clear language of the Admission Act which identifies native Hawaiians (50% blood) and the “public” as the equitable owners of the PLT. Where is the share for Native Hawaiians? Native Hawaiians are members of the “public.” If OHA’s efforts to resolve these critical fiscal and resource issues fail in the 2022 Legislative Session, I will petition the OHA Board to initiate litigation in the Federal District Court in Hawaiʻi for relief.

In 1983, I was appointed a member of the Federal-State Task Force on Hawaiian Homelands.

Our final report, issued in August 1983, set forth a detailed template for corrective action which has yet to be implemented by the state. For nearly 30 years the task force recommendations have been ignored not only by the State of Hawaiʻi but by the federal government as well.

In 2020 and 2021 Rob Perez, an investigative reporter from Hawaiʻi, undertook a two-year investigation of the state and U.S. breaches of the Hawaiian Homes Trust. I urge all Hawaiian beneficiaries to read and review the Perez articles – they document how Hawaiʻi’s own congressman circumvented and prevented the opportunity for DHHL lessees to access hundreds of homes at Kalaeloa, Oʻahu, in order to benefit the Hunt Corporation.

See:

When I was appointed to the Federal-State Task Force on Hawaiian Homelands, I learned that an “estimated” 30,000 Hawaiians had died waiting for their Homestead awards. Today there are over 28,000 families on the waitlist.

We cannot continue the “dialogue” with the state and legislature. I believe that the time has come to seek the guidance of the federal court in mandating a resolution and ordering the state to commence paying to OHA hundreds of millions of dollars owed for past arrearages.

There are nine months left until the next election. At that time, voters (public and Indigenous) will have the opportunity to elect another Hawaiʻi Island OHA Trustee. In the intervening nine months, I am honored and proud to fill the vacancy. I thank the Trustees who nominated and voted for me. I send my heartfelt aloha to my dear friends Germane, Healani, Leianueanue, Cindy, Malama, Kawehi, and Patricia for testifying in support of my nomination.

Together we will make a difference.

Mililani B. Trask,
Hawaiʻi Island Trustee

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