UHH official is cleared of wrongdoing


A yearlong investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office has cleared University of Hawaii Associate Vice President for Capital Improvements Brian Minaai of all wrongdoing involving the construction of UH-Hilo’s new student dormitory.

Minaai was publicly accused by designer Dennis Mitsunaga of Mitsunaga &Associates Inc. of mismanaging the construction of UH-Hilo’s Hale Alahonua, running up the costs on the project, and favoring friends with lucrative contracts. Mitsunaga’s allegations prompted the University of Hawaii Board of Regents to request that the attorney general look into the complaints.

Minaai has now returned to overseeing construction projects across the state after being placed on paid leave last year, according to a statement issued this week by the UH System Office of Communications. He returned to work at UH this summer, but his duties were limited so as to prevent the possibility or appearance of interference with the ongoing investigation.

“We would like to thank the Office of the Attorney General for its thorough and professional independent review of the allegations, and we are very pleased to have Brian Minaai return to his full duties,” said UH Interim President David Lassner. “Moving forward, we are completely committed to transparent, accountable, efficient and effective processes for our entire capital improvement program.”

In a report published online at go.hawaii.edu/G7, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that “there is no evidence of intent to suggest any criminal behavior by Minaai or other parties involved in this Project, nor is there evidence that any of the actions were for a malicious or improper purpose to suggest any civil or administrative wrongdoing.”

However, the report did note that “the management of the Project by the University of Hawaii and by OCI (Office of Capital Improvements) in particular, was deficient in several key respects,” according to the report. “… Notwithstanding the allegations of Mitsunaga, the Project was completed and opened on time for occupancy for the 2013-2014 school year, per the construction schedule. It is the Department’s further understanding that this Project is anticipated to be over budget by approximately $300,000. It is unclear as to how this budget shortfall will be addressed.”

In a phone interview Friday afternoon, UH-Hilo Director of University Relations Jerry Chang said he believed a contingency fund would cover the overages on the project.

“We’re just very glad he was free of any allegations,” Chang said of Minaai. “We missed him. He’s a valuable asset to the university. During the short stint when he wasn’t there, we really felt his absence.”

In its release, the UH system said it is working to address the deficiencies identified in the attorney general’s report.

“The Board of Regents and the university have made process improvement a major priority, and work is now underway to fully reengineer and improve the lifecycle management of the university’s capital projects,” the release stated.

In its conclusion of findings, the Attorney General’s Office report stated that it is normal for a project of the dormitory’s size and scope to generate disagreements among the various parties involved.

“No doubt, a certain degree of hard feelings persist because the designers believe the ultimate finished product does not fully represent the vision of the dormitory they had designed for the Hilo campus. The UHH administration is disappointed that it wound up with a stripped down facility, compared to what was initially envisioned,” the report reads.

“Most importantly, however, it must be emphasized that the Project’s goal was met in this case: a functional, 300-bed facility was built, furnished, and certified for occupancy on time and ready for the 2013-2014 school year. Problems that were encountered during the course of this Project can be attributed for the most part to the inherent flaws of the design-assist process, especially when applied to a project with a tight, limited budget with a short, very difficult schedule for completion. There is little doubt that UH could have handled this project’s planning, procurements, and contracting in a more efficient, rational, coordinated and conscientious manner.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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