View Point

By Colette Y. Machado

Saturday, May 22, 1999

All OHA trustees
must work together

DID you vote to make OHA a private corporation with sole ownership of all lands returned by the state to the Hawaiian people? No? Well, that's what Rowena Akana, Clayton Hee and Kali Watson proposed to the governor last month.

On April 16, Watson (Akana's attorney) delivered a letter to the governor, offering to settle the Heely ceded lands revenue lawsuit. The letter was signed by Akana as chairwoman of the OHA board, even though the majority of OHA trustees had not been allowed to read it.

In the letter, Akana offered to "settle" the state's past debt to OHA for $305 million. The state's past debt was the only issue that the board had authorized for negotiation. But, when the other trustees were finally allowed to read Akana's letter, we were shocked to discover its global implications.

Akana, backed by Hee and Watson, offered to let the state "wash their hands" of all future responsibilities to support OHA. In exchange for fee title to state lands with revenues of $7.4 million per year, Akana agreed to support the repeal of HRS Chapter 10 (OHA's implementing legislation) and Act 304 (the law giving OHA 20 percent of all ceded land revenues).

This "global" settlement would set up OHA as a private "native" corporation with sole title to the state lands transferred in the settlement.

Only a select group of OHA trustees worked with Akana and her attorney on these high-profile negotiations, which Akana largely kept secret from the rest of the board. The board's own lawyer, Sherry Broder, was not informed of the settlement proposal.

Even Mililani Trask, who was part of the OHA negotiating team, was unaware of Akana's plan. To her credit, when Trask finally received a copy of Akana's letter, she promptly notified all OHA trustees and staff of its contents.

When the excluded trustees finally learned the details of Akana's global settlement offer, it raised many deep concerns:

Bullet Who would run the new private corporation?

Bullet Where would this settlement leave the many Hawaiian groups that have argued for independence, reparations or some form of sovereignty?

Bullet What voice did the Hawaiian people have in designing this settlement?

With these concerns foremost in our minds, trustees Haunani Apoliona, Frenchy DeSoto, Louis Hao, Mililani Trask and I voted to pull out of ceded lands negotiations with the state. Hee, Akana and Springer elected to continue with the negotiation plan.

We want a resolution of OHA's ceded lands claims, but we cannot agree to a settlement plan that would extinguish the state's responsibility to OHA. We also cannot agree to create a private corporate holding company for Hawaiian lands unless we have a mandate to do so from the Hawaiian people.

HAWAIIAN voters elected nine trustees to the OHA board. Our constituents expect us to work together as a team on their behalf. But under the current leadership of Rowena Akana, the majority of OHA trustees were barred from receiving critical information about the ceded lands negotiations.

This secretive, divisive and punitive style of leadership is deadly. It saps the morale of our staff and makes it almost impossible for the trustees to work together.

There are dangerous personal consequences for this brand of leadership, as the former Bishop Estate trustees now know. But the damage inflicted on the Hawaiian people by a dysfunctional board will be far more significant in the long run than any personal wounds suffered by individual trustees.

Colette Y. Machado is a member of the
Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees.

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