HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano on Friday called for the abolishment of the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a day after learning the FBI had joined a criminal investigation into spending by the agency.
After nearly 40 years, Cayetano said, the agency is failing at its mission.
"We are in the state now where you have to make a critical decision about what OHA will be, or whether they should continue to be in existence," Cayetano told Hawaii News Now.
Sources say state and federal authorities have broadened their probe into OHA, requesting copies of contracts, trustee emails and financial records of the agency's non profit subsidiaries.
"I think it's good the FBI is looking into it, because that would be something very important, to determine if there's any criminality," said Cayetano.
At a board meeting on Thursday, OHA's attorney declined to give any details of the investigation to a beneficiary. In a later closed session, sources say, the attorney reported to OHA trustees and advised each to hire personal attorneys.
"That indicates trouble," said Cayetano. "If you're a government agency, you should put it all on the table for people to see."
Cayetano won't find much support for shutting down OHA, even among the agency's critics within the Native Hawaiian community. Defenders of the agency say it plays an important role in supporting Hawaiians and beneficiaries by using money from Hawaiian lands.
Abolishing OHA would take a constitutional amendment and a statewide vote.
"It's a rarity when Hawaiians receive positions of power," said OHA Beneficiary Germaine Meyers. "Just fire the CEO and oust the chair, not shut down OHA. I feel it's warranted that the FBI is investigating them, and I'm grateful for it."
Hawaii News Now reached out to several OHA trustees for comment; only one responded. Keli'i Akina relayed that he couldn't comment on the investigation but welcomed efforts to ensure that trustees fulfill their fiduciary duties.
The agency's spokesman also declined to comment for this story.