State senator requests federal review of DHHL

LIHU‘E — This week, state Senate Minority Leader Kurt Fevella called upon the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations that the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has not expediently expended state and federal funds to further develop and deliver lands to Native Hawaiians through the Hawaiian homesteading program.

Fevella believes that DHHL’s decision to transfer $125 million of trust funds provided by the state Legislature into a savings account should instead be used to build homestead lots for beneficiaries on the waitlist.

“The department’s actions of setting aside trusts funds into a savings account highlights the need for reform and renewed leadership at DHHL,” Fevella said in a statement.

“It is disingenuous and misleading for the department to seek additional funding and revenue opportunities from the state and federal government when they already possess a large sum of monies that can be used to build homes and construct needed infrastructure for beneficiaries.”

Earlier this week, Fevella was joined by Anahola’s Robin Danner, chairwoman of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, at a press conference pointing mismanagement of legislative funds.

Following these accusations, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair William J. Aila Jr., issued a statement stating that no wrongdoing has been done, and DHHL has operated within the law.

“The Hawaiian Homes Commission has followed the authorizations outlined in the Hawai‘i State Legislature’s 1995 Act 14 settlement to establish an endowment to serve the trust,” Aila said.

“At the time, the Legislature was very deliberate in wanting DHHL to seek out a steady availability of capital to fund the program. It’s the department’s intention to fully implement this authorization and continue to work with the state to complete Act 14 outstanding land transfers.”

Aila said that, since 1995, the department has used Act 14’s financial settlement to develop over 4,000 new homestead lots, and that the DHHL is responsible for over a half a billion dollars in private lending contingent. Aila said that at the close of the 2021 legislative session, DHHL was allocated $78 million for capital improvement projects. The department had requested $460 million.

“It is our fiduciary kuleana to be sure the trust has enough money in its reserve to mitigate this risk against the state,” Aila said. “This commission, as well as previous commissions, has acted prudently in its fiduciary responsibility of this trust to ensure that homestead lots are developed in perpetuity.”

In his letter, Fevella calls upon federal Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to conduct a formal investigation of DHHL.

“The intent of HHCA (federal Hawaiian Homes Commision Act, championed by Kaua‘i native Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole) was to return Native Hawaiians to the land while encouraging them to become self-sufficient farmers, ranchers and homesteaders on leased parcels of reserve land set aside by the United States,” Fevella siad in the letter.

“Your assistance is needed to review and investigate the actions of DHHL and determine whether DHHL has met its fiduciary duty to the Native Hawaiians beneficiaries,” Fevella wrote.

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