Long dispute over ceded land revenues needs resolution
Key Senate committees have put a hold on a bill to authorize a settlement between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
REJECTION of legislation that would have allowed the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to settle a dispute concerning revenue rights from ceded lands
appears rooted in a number of problems that could prove difficult to overcome.
Among them are dissatisfaction with the agency's performance, a belief that the settlement will cut off possibilities for future claims to public lands and that it was prepared without enough involvement of the Hawaiian community. In addition, the value of the settlement -- a total of $13 million in cash, $187 million in land and annual payments of at least $15.1 million -- has been criticized as too little.
Despite questions and conflicts, stakeholders should acknowledge that an agreement on the ceded lands is imperative if conditions for Hawaiians are to improve. A settlement cannot be all things to all people and individual concerns must give way to what's best for the greater number.
The agreement hoped to end a 30-year dispute over revenues owed from lands once held by the Hawaiian monarchy. Negotiated for four years, it was announced in January and bills were introduced to authorize the administration to complete the deal, but three Senate committees voted to hold back a House measure after hearing opposition. Other bills remain, but are unlikely to gain traction in the Legislature this session.
Though OHA has made good efforts in informing its constituents and inviting them to comment and discuss the agreement, it seems that presenting the settlement after it was completed did not sit well. OHA could try to temper opposition through increased communication and by further explaining how and why it came to approve the agreement. However, the agency has been persistently criticized as not doing enough for its beneficiaries, a dissatisfaction that could stand in the way of anything it does.
The agreement would require OHA to release additional claims to revenue from public lands, but the bill had been revised to set $15.1 million a years as the least OHA would receive with increases to be set legislatively or by the administration to reflect rising land values and income.
It does not bar future claims by a yet-to-be-established Hawaiian governing entity, but if language in the settlement does not make that clear, it also should be revised. If the agreement can be renegotiated to resolve other issues, OHA and the state should attempt to do so. However, to continue to resist compromise hampers OHA's goals and leaves another generation of Hawaii's native people at risk.
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