Thursday | November 23, 2017
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Your Views for November 8

Do more in-house

With a new year coming up soon, I continue to hope there will be positive changes at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. However, change will not occur unless the trustees begin to hold our administration responsible for its actions.

The biggest problem is the current system encourages trustees to do nothing but show up to vote for action items written by the administration. Many of these action items are delivered to us a few days before a meeting, giving us very little time to properly review them. This is why trustees often feel blindsided at the table by last-minute proposals.

Another problem is OHA only reacts to problems as they pop up instead of proactively solving issues before they get serious. With the many emergencies we face, our beneficiaries cannot afford trustees that only sit back and passively wait to put out fires.

OHA used to be a hands-on agency with a variety of programs to help our beneficiaries. Whenever a beneficiary would call with a problem, whether it had to do with health, education, housing or even funds for an emergency, we could call someone in the OHA administration for help. Our beneficiaries were assisted quickly and efficiently by an OHA staffer. That’s why having in-house OHA programs, closely monitored by the trustees, are so important.

Today, OHA mostly operates like a charitable foundation that simply hands out grants and conducts research. Most of the successful OHA-run programs, like Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna, which took years of hard work by past trustees to develop, have been contracted out or quietly discontinued.

OHA also had a very successful housing program through a partnership with Fannie Mae and implemented through First Hawaiian Bank. We not only provided assistance with down payments but also classes about how to control debt in order to qualify for a mortgage. In those productive years, OHA offered many programs with just a quarter of our current staff. While farming work out to nonprofits is appropriate in some cases, I think OHA has gone too far.

Rebuilding our programs won’t be quick or easy, but there is hope. For the past eight years, OHA contracted with a third-party “middleman” to administer OHA’s funds to support 17 Hawaiian-focused charter schools. The middleman took a small percentage of the funds as an administrative fee to cover the costs of distributing the fund and ensuring compliance. Since the trustees approved $1.5 million for this school year and next school year, the administrative fee was estimated to be up to $200,000 for each year.

On Oct. 19, OHA trustees approved distributing the $3 million directly to the charter schools during the next two years. Amazingly, the trustees finally decided to get rid of the middleman. This means the administrative fee will now go to the schools. It’s a win-win situation I’m hoping we can replicate with other OHA programs.

The trustees are ultimately accountable for OHA. Therefore, it makes more sense to run our programs in-house so we can monitor them. That way, OHA trustees will be more involved and regularly kept up to date on our programs’ progress. This should be our goal for 2018. I pray the new year will bring constructive and meaningful change.

Rowena M. Akana

Trustee-at-Large,

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

 

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