To some, those words mean a strong tie between cities and opportunities to develop economic and cultural partnerships that benefit both. It means learning, exchanging ideas, opening lines of communication and creating bonds for future endeavors.
To others, those two words mean little more than a paid vacation for the public officials who go on trips to visit the Sister City. They mean a lot of empty words that really amount to officials from both cities traveling around at taxpayers’ expense and producing very little tangible results.
Let’s take a closer look.
Former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. was a strong supporter of the Sister City concept, and went on several trips during his time in office. It was as recently as September 2018 when a signing ceremony was held between the County of Kauai and the City of Davao in the Philippines in Lihue.
City of Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, daughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration has been criticized by Amnesty International and other groups for committing human rights violation, had this to say:
“As the world continues to evolve, the challenges we face become increasingly complex. Now, more than ever, there is value in learning continuously, and in collaborating with others to find solutions to address concerns that we may face.”
The Sister City signing marked the fifth Sister City from the Philippines that the County of Kauai has affirmed since 1991, including relationships with the Municipality of Santa, Province of Iloco Sur (1991), Municipality of Bangue, Province of Abra (2000), Municipality of Urdaneta, Province of Pangasinan (2000), and City of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte (2011).
“Through these sister city relationships, I have had the opportunity to visit the Philippines and learn firsthand how Hawaii and the Philippines are separated by ocean but connected by our sense of family, and our dedication toward building our youth, our connection to our culture and heritage,” Carvalho said at the time.
And Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami has continued that effort. He led a contingent from Kauai to Japan that is wrapping up its mission in Ishigaki, following stops in Fukuoka, Yamaguchi and Iwaki.
“I am honored and excited to embark on my very first official international trip to visit our beloved sister cities of Japan,” Kawakami said. “Kauai mayors before me have established and developed strong partnerships with our Sister City officials, and my goal for this trip is to continue to strengthen those partnerships and affirm our commitment as a new administration. Together with our delegation, we look forward to furthering our long-lasting ties of goodwill, culture, and friendship between Kauai and Japan.”
The trip included Executive Protocol Officer Kaleo Carvalho, tourism specialist Nalani Brun, Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa and Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i.
The delegation met top government officials from each city, attended the Iwaki City-County of Kauai International Sister City Exchange Cultural Festival 2019 (aka Iwaki-Kauai Ohana Hula Festival), commemorate the 20th anniversary Reaffirmation Ceremony of Ishigaki-Kauai Sister City signing, and attended and spoke at the Islander Summit Ishigaki.
Sounds like an ambitious undertaking. Those who have gone on such trips say it’s a busy time, with a tight schedule and far from a paid vacation.
From the Mayor’s Office operating budget, the combined expenses for airfare, hotel and ground transportation for Kawakami, Kaleo Carvalho and Brun totaled $9,780.07.
Per the mayor’s office, here’s the breakdown for the Japan Sister City trip, from Sept. 26 to Oct. 5. This includes travel to cities of Iwaki, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, and Ishigaki: Airfare: $5,533.26; hotel: $3,166.81; ground transportation: $1,080.
These figures do not include the cost of travel for the councilmembers.
While the cost isn’t anything to raise alarms about, we still question the actual need for such trips and whether taxpayers see any actual benefit.
Some online comments posted on TGI’s story about the trip also questioned the value of such trips:
• “We watched this kind of stuff with the other administrations and their junkets but as much I like the Mayor I do not want to see this any more. Enough already. We do not need to promote Kauai so going over to re-up our sisterhood status is ridiculous. We are a small population that cannot be paying for this kind of thing when we have people living outside homeless and others barely making their rent. It’s got to stop.”
• “Paid junkets and party time for the whole term seems par for the course. It’s called ‘politricks’ for a reason.”
Stop Sister City trips?
We would ask the county to consider ending such Sister City journeys, but for one reason, and that is Kawakami supports it and sees value here. If our mayor believes there is merit in continuing the Sister City relationships, then the mayor has our support, as we believe he is doing a good job and will do an even better one as he settles into office. While we don’t see any immediate benefits from being a Sister City or this most recent one to Japan, certainly there are intangible benefits of the program that make it well worth the relatively inexpensive cost to keep it going.