Friday, December 5, 1997

Attempt to discredit
master’s report is futile

THE trustees of the Bishop Estate have denounced the master's report on estate operations as "factually inaccurate and grossly misleading." But if the master, Colbert Matsumoto, got some facts wrong, the explanation may be that the trustees didn't provide him with the information he needed. Matsumoto complained that the trustees had made it hard for him to obtain information and monitored his investigation closely. The situation was so difficult that he compared it to "reviewing the CIA's finances rather than those of a charitable trust."

The trustees did not fulfill their obligation to cooperate with the court-appointed master. Now they are trying to discredit him and bluster their way out of the mess they created. But their rebuttal is self-defeating because of their attempts to obstruct the master's work. If they had provided him with the information they are now disclosing, his report might have been different. If he made mistakes, it may be that they have nobody to blame but themselves.

The current group of trustees has demonstrated that it cannot tolerate criticism, even from within the Hawaiian community. For years the state tolerated the trustees' secretiveness and arbitrary decisions because the estate had strong support from Hawaiians. Not any more. In fact, the most damning criticism of the trustees has come from Hawaiians.

An avalanche of charges has fallen on the trustees in recent months. The three-member majority on the board is isolated and defensive. But nothing the trustees do can alter the fact that they are accountable to the courts for their management of the estate.Their blustering rebuttal is another illustration of their refusal to accept that reality. Their refusal to cooperate with the court-appointed master was outrageous -- and another reason why they should resign or be removed from their posts.

Bishop Estate Archive

India's turmoil

THE world's largest democracy is adrift. India's fourth government in 18 months resigned last week and efforts since then to form a new one have failed. The cabinet of caretaker Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral called for new elections. India's president responded by disbanding Parliament in preparation for the balloting.

The United Front government fell after losing critical support from the Congress Party, which has long dominated national politics but can no longer command a majority alone. Currently there is no dominant party. The Congress Party tried this week to form a new government, as did the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, but both failed.

Gujral had served for only seven months before stepping down after three weeks of turmoil. The Congress Party withdrew its support from the ruling coalition because it refused to oust from the government a small regional group, the Dravida Progressive Party. The party was linked in a judicial report to the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister and Congress leader.

The last election, in 1996, produced a divided Parliament and no consensus on the nation's problems. The Congress Party and the United Front closed ranks to oust a 12-day-old government headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is considered anti-Muslim. H.D. Deve Gowda headed the new ruling coalition until last April, when he lost the support of the Congress Party.

The situation in archenemy Pakistan was also turbulent. President Farooq Leghari was forced to resign and the chief justice was ousted in a power struggle with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Amid the bickering, the problems of the millions of poor people in these impoverished countries are being ignored. On the positive side, the in-fighting is a distraction that may keep India and Pakistan from going to war again soon.

Marcos' bank accounts

EFFORTS to compensate victims of human rights abuses by the Ferdinand Marcos regime have suffered what may be a fatal blow. A federal appeals court has rejected an attempt to gain possession of hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly hidden by the Philippine dictator in Swiss banks.

In 1994, a federal jury in Hawaii awarded $766 million in compensation and $1.2 billion in punitive damages to about 10,000 victims or heirs of victims. But obtaining the funds to pay the damages may be impossible.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered dismissal of a suit filed last year in Los Angeles that sought to freeze Marcos funds in Swiss banks and transfer them to a lawyer for the victims. The court said the orders sought in the suit would conflict with a freeze already ordered on the bank accounts by the Swiss government at the request of the Philippines.

The appeals court also ordered U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of Los Angeles, who presided at the Honolulu trial, to take no action in any case involving Marcos funds in Swiss banks. An earlier order by Real, requiring the banks to transfer the funds to California, was overturned last year. Wednesday's ruling overturned Real's refusal to dismiss the 1996 suit.

The opinion by Judge Thomas Nelson said the orders sought against the banks would violate the "act of state" doctrine, which prohibits U.S. courts from judging the validity of a foreign nation's sovereign acts. He also said Judge Real's orders to the banks to disclose information and documents about the accounts would violate Swiss banking secrecy and other laws.

It is hard to see how the victims can collect damages if they cannot tap the Swiss bank accounts. But it has long been obvious that they would have trouble because the Philippine government claims the same money as reimbursement for Marcos' alleged theft of public funds.

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