Deal draws debate
Ceded lands: Benefits of OHA settlement proposal in question
State leaders are raising questions about the multimillion-dollar settlement between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over the use of so-called ceded lands.
Lawmakers predicted the settlement will not be liked by native Hawaiians. "I don't think the beneficiaries are going to be pleased with this settlement," said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.
And former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who had worked for a settlement while he was in office, said the offer he made was a better deal for native Hawaiians.
"In 1999, we offered OHA $251 million plus 20 percent of the ceded lands (not the income), which I estimated at 365,000 acres," Cayetano recalled yesterday in an e-mail.
The proposed settlement announced Friday by OHA and Gov. Linda Lingle would resolve the OHA claims to the former Hawaiian monarchy lands used by the state by promising that the state would give OHA $15.1 million a year, plus nearly $200 million worth of state property including the resort property on Banyan Drive in Hilo and portions of Kakaako and Kalaeloa.
Cayetano said his offer was more generous, but it called for an agreement that OHA would not sue the state for future claims.
"I insisted on a global settlement because I wanted to protect the state from more lawsuits," Cayetano said, adding that OHA trustees were dismissive of the impact on the state, arrogant and greedy.
In reaction, Cayetano halted negotiations with OHA, and the talks stalled for nine years.
Yesterday, Haunani Apoliona, OHA chairwoman, charged that Cayetano's proposed settlement "unfairly sought to bar any future claim to title to state-controlled public lands such that the only remaining overthrow claim would be against the federal government."
Hanabusa also agreed with another criticism from Cayetano, that because OHA is a state agency, it should be monitored by the Legislature.
Cayetano said although money and land transferred from the state to OHA, it still belongs to the state.
"I think people should remember that OHA is a state agency. Whatever OHA gets from the settlement is still state property. For obvious political reasons, there is literally no oversight from either the Legislature or governor on how OHA spends its money," he said.
"The Legislature and governor should hold OHA accountable for its fiscal decisions -- it's their duty as elected officials to do so," the former governor said.
But Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) added OHA should be afforded some degree of independence to monitor things for the narrowly defined beneficiary class, native Hawaiians.
The sovereignty question makes a decision on whether the Legislature should approve the OHA settlement even more complex because Apoliona says a future native Hawaiian government still could sue to get control of state lands.
"Only a native Hawaiian governing entity (and certainly not OHA) has the right to negotiate historic grievances over ownership of the crown and government lands that were illegally obtained from the Hawaii kingdom in 1893 and later ceded to the United States," Apoliona said yesterday.
She said if the Legislature approves the settlement, "the state will obtain a release of all of OHA's claims to income and proceeds from the public land trust" under the portions of the state Constitution that set up OHA.
"Going forward, OHA also releases the state of claims to future public land revenues as long as at least $15.1 million is annually paid to OHA," Apoliona said.
But the settlement does not address overthrow claims, according to the OHA chairwoman.