Pulling teeth at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Imagine that you wake up one day to an awful toothache, and you march into your dentist’s office.

But then your dentist says, “Well, you tell me your tooth hurts, but can you prove that you have a cavity?”

“Um … no,” you reply.

“Well, then, get out! You’ve just wasted my time. I’ll be sure to send today’s bill to you personally, not your dental insurer, for this outrage.”

Similar logic (if you could even call it logic) is being used at our Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and that argument has become an issue in the upcoming election for OHA trustees.

In September 2018, the OHA board of trustees, at the urging of At-Large Trustee Keli‘i Akina, engaged a national accounting firm to conduct a contract and disbursement review, looking for indicators of fraud, waste and abuse. The accounting firm’s report was issued on Dec. 4, 2019, at a cost of $500,000.

The report and a summary of the report put together by Akina’s staff highlighted a number of “red flags,” or potential problems. Here are some examples:

Various places in the report, including at pages 70 to 72, discuss a $2.6 million grant made to the Akamai Foundation to conduct a Native Hawaiian self-governance election, including independently monitoring the election and funding self-governance activities after the election was concluded. The money was supposed to be paid out in five tranches. But Akamai Foundation asked that all funds be paid out at once, before the nonprofit incurred a large portion of the costs, and OHA did so (in violation of its internal policies). The election was canceled, leaving the auditors wondering whether some of the funds disbursed were really needed or actually spent for the requested purposes.

Page 121 of the report discusses a contract with Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning. OHA paid $349,527 for consulting services. Neither the procurement documents nor any deliverables could be found. But of course the money went out the door.

On the day the report was issued, a statement of OHA’s board Chair Colette Machado and Committee on Resource Management Chair Dan Ahuna of Kaua‘i said, “While this report observed indicators of potential fraud, waste or abuse, it did not identify actual instances of fraud, waste or abuse.”

Thus, on a recent PBS Insights candidates’ forum, Keoni Souza, who is running for OHA trustee-at-large against Akina, said, “Do I think there was a waste of $500,000? Absolutely.” Machado then doubled down by saying, “Keli‘i, you tried to find the smoking gun. And there was none. It’s on you now.”

Has your tooth stopped hurting yet?

Just to be clear: CliftonLarsenAllen, the accounting firm issuing the report, is not the police, is not the FBI, is not law enforcement. An accounting firm can’t arrest people, throw them in jail, or otherwise find that they have committed illegal activity. We have previously urged OHA to turn the report over to law enforcement. Apparently, that hasn’t happened because, well, there is no smoking gun. so why trouble law enforcement?

Ouch! Give us the Novocain!


Tom Yamachika is president of the Tax Foundation of Hawai‘i.

  1. Rev. Dr. Malama October 18, 2020 1:50 pm Reply

    This is why we must vote out the corruption and even though we as Hawai’ian Kingdom Subjects are voting under duress…… there are people who are running for OHA who understand the importance of integrity and the return to the Independent Nation we are!

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