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Following critical audit, lawmakers to begin investigation of agribusiness agency

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 10:49 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 14, 2021 at 10:38 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers investigating the Agribusiness Development Corporation will have their first meeting Wednesday to establish the rules of its probe.

Members hope to follow up on the auditor’s report by requesting documents and even subpoenaing witnesses.

An audit found the Agribusiness Development Corporation has done little to diversify Hawaii’s agriculture industry. This led the state to form a rare investigative committee.

While there was bill to dissolve the ADC and transfer lands and staff to the Department of Agriculture, investigate committee chair state Rep. Della Au Bellati said the legislature couldn’t agree with a plan to reform the organization.

Bellati said the committee will make recommendations in next year’s legislative session based on their findings.

“We want to understand how much progress they’ve made in inventory and identifying all their lands,” said Bellati. “What they’ve done to manage the leases that they have on all the islands, not just the ones that they have on Oahu.”

TJ Cuaresma, of Wahiawa, said the ADC is doing little with taxpayer dollars.

“We as a community, we work hard, our taxes are paying ADC, our monies are paying ADC, and yet they’re so blatantly irresponsible with their record keeping and things of that nature,” he said.

Cuaresma criticizes the ADC for not managing their properties properly ― like the brush land surrounding Whitmore Village.

“People dying on these lands, rubbish being dumped, homeless encampments, that’s poor management, so where does it stop?” asked Cuaresma. “So, I hope that this investigative committee that they’re able to see all of that.”

Since 1994, the agency has been working to provide leases and tax breaks to small farmers with success stories on Oahu and Kauai.

The ADC has plans for a unique farming community in Whitmore with production facilities, housing and distribution hub that were featured in an international design journal.

Lilette Subedi, president of the board of directors for the Whitmore Economic Development Group, said they see ADC as an asset.

Subedi hopes the committee will conduct a fair investigation. She said she doesn’t see how folding the ADC into the Department of Agriculture would help.

“The state is really tight on funds anyway, ADC lacking funds so none of their positions are filled either, so we understand how difficult it is to make big strides,” said Subedi.

“Everybody wants to see a lot of progress, but it’s going to take time and I’m sure it’s frustrating to many people.”

“We know that agriculture and the disposition of public lands is very important to the people of Hawaii, we also know that it’s part of advancing our economy and ensuring that we have a public land base for the future,” said Bellati. “So, we’re taking this very seriously.”

Hawaii News Now left a message with the Agribusiness Development Corporation, but not get a response.

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