[ OUR OPINION ]
GOVERNOR Lingle has taken the first step toward making government more open and less corrupt by appointing a businessman of high integrity to head the state Department of Accounting and General Services. Fulfillment of Lingle's campaign promise would do much to cleanse a system tainted by favoritism in awarding government contracts, but it will not erase the need for campaign finance reform.
Campaign reform will
ensure honest government
THE ISSUEA longtime executive of the phone company has been appointed to head the department responsible for state contracts.
In her campaign brochure, Lingle called for "financial accountability and openness" as essential "to break the vicious cycle of corruption and favoritism in state contracting and to restore trust and integrity in government service." Russ K. Saito is a sound choice to direct that effort as director of DAGS, which is in charge of awarding state contracts. The appointment was paired with that of certified public accountant Katherine Thomason as his deputy.
Lingle said Saito was known for his "quiet and effective" leadership during his 34 years in the telecommunications industry, the past 25 years with Verizon Hawaii, formerly GTE Hawaiian Tel. She said she regards his lack of experience in government as "a big plus."
The governor said the state's contracting process will be posted on the Internet, allowing the public to know which companies are awarded contracts and why, along with contract amounts and changes that are made. Investigative news reporting has been required in the past to reveal some of that information.
Micah Kane, former executive director and chairman of the state Republican Party, has suggested that such openness would make unnecessary new laws to keep companies donating money to political campaigns from being rewarded with government contracts. "We believe that the best reform is simply full, open and frequent disclosure," said Kane, whom Lingle has appointed to head the Hawaiian Home Lands Department. "People will be able to assess whether or not something is, in fact, corrupt."
Even if Lingle's administration is open and squeaky clean, that is no guarantee that the state's mayors and her successor in Washington Place will be equally upright. Government contracts in exchange for campaign donations -- even if such an explicit trade-off cannot be proved -- is unethical and should be illegal.
Last year's state Legislature approved a bill aimed at banning contributions by large corporations, labor unions and banks to political campaigns for county and state executive offices. Government contractors labored feverishly against the legislation, and Gov. Ben Cayetano vetoed it on the basis that legislators did not subject their own campaigns to the restrictions.
Legislators should resurrect the bill in the upcoming session. Since they are not involved in awarding government contracts, they have nothing to risk by including their own campaigns in the legislation. Lingle should sign such a bill into law to ensure that other county and state governments are as honest as hers promises to be.
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