In wake of critical audit, OHA board approves internal reboot

Updated: Apr. 4, 2019 at 5:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees unanimously approved a new governance framework for the agency Thursday in a push to address the results of a critical audit.

“This is the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ first historic step in not just addressing those things, but actually fixing those things which is big,” said Brendon Kaleiaina Lee, OHA vice chairman.

The audit faulted OHA for circumventing its own spending policies and slammed individual trustees for abusing their allowances. Since 2011, OHA’s reserve fund has dropped from $15 million to $2 million.

Now an internal board group is recommending that the agency operate like other alii trusts that are rooted in Native Hawaiian values.

Lee headed the group and says they’re examining policies over spending and awarding of grants and also plan to improve transparency ― issues that have been criticized for years.

"We have past practices that's tied to no policy and without those clear lines that's how we get to the situation that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs gets into when it gets a scathing audit," said Lee.

All this comes as the FBI and state Attorney General’s Office are still conducting a criminal investigation into the organization. At the same time, OHA is asking the state Legislature to double its ceded land payments, which are capped at $15.1 million per year.

OHA trustee Kelii Akina says he's glad OHA is moving forward in defining its policies and hopes it follows through.

“OHA’s credibility has been on the line. Lawmakers have been taking a hardened look at our finances. That’s why they say the audit that we commissioned two years ago needs to be completed in order to procure further funds from the legislature,” Akina said.

In reshaping its policies, OHA is looking at other Alii Trusts for guidance including Kamehameha Schools, Liliuokalani Trust, Lunalilo Home and the Queens Medical Center.

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