In whistleblower report, DOH manager alleges agency is ‘dysfunctional’

Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 11:01 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A longtime Department of Health manager is blowing the whistle on his own agency, alleging corruption and mismanagement that he alleges is fleecing taxpayers and jeopardizing sanitation and health inspections.

“They are totally mismanaged and dysfunctional at this point, ” said Peter Oshiro, who heads the department’s Food Safety Branch and has worked at the DOH for 33 years.

In a report sent to state lawmakers and the media, he accuses some of his fellow DOH managers of “lining their pockets,” “incompetence” and “shocking fiscal improprieties” that went ignored by top leadership.

He said his division’s boss, DOH Deputy Director Keith Kawaoka, hasn’t hired a division administrator for about five years. So each month, Oshiro said he and other managers have been given temporary promotions at higher pay to be acting administrators.

“It becomes lining their pockets because the managers know that every time you do this, you get a pay raise,” he said.

He said the department wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars with these and other cases of mismanagement.

In another instance, he said the department bought a theft alarm system five years ago, paying $277 a month in service fees, or a total of about $20,000. But he said the department never turned it on.

“Oh my God this system has never been set since the day it was installed. Not once was it ever activated,” Oshiro said.

He thinks the department should be audited by an independent agency. The head of the House Health Committee agrees.

“We are open to looking at audits ― managerial and fiscal ― as we move forward, especially for next year,” said State Rep. Ryan Yamane.

Health Director Libby Char declined to address Oshiro’s specific allegation but issued this statement:

“We are always open to feedback from employees on ways to improve processes and increase our efficiency, and it is unfortunate this employee felt sharing his personal perspectives with legislators was the best way to resolve his concerns. At this point, it is difficult for us to provide a substantive response to the allegations raised by this Department of Health employee.

“We will need more time to sift through his complaints about being removed from his temporarily assigned position and the legitimacy of his concerns. We intend to also work with legislators and acknowledge their oversight as we evaluate the allegations.”

Oshiro said he tried to set up meetings with Char seven times in recent months but was rebuffed.

Along with the fiscal irregularities, Oshiro also accused the department of not fulfilling it’s core mission of protecting the public.

For instance, the Department Food and Drug branch is supposed to conduct inspections of local drug and food manufactures and the fast growing medical cannabis industry.

“In two years, none of these people have been inspected,” he said.

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