Other Views

Saturday, January 10, 1998

Bishop Estate should adopt old values, new rules

By Kekoa Kaapu

Someone once said, "Money may not be the root of all evil, but love of money could be." When the love of politically derived power is added to the mix, the potential for evil is fearsome.

Last May I walked with hundreds of my fellow Kamehameha alumni from the grounds of the Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu to Iolani Palace, then on to the Supreme Court and to Bishop Estate headquarters.

I voted with my feet as an expression of support for the efforts of Na Pua A Ke Alii Pauahi to ensure the proper and effective functioning of our beloved alma mater and the estate that supports it.

Since our long walk, the issues of concern have broadened from initial complaints that estate trustees were "micromanaging." Now being examined are questionable asset management and allegations of possible trustee misconduct.

I have long questioned the investment by KS/BE of any of its revenues outside of Hawaii while such great need for financial support exists here.

Homeless Hawaiians are living on beaches and thousands of financially responsible families are on waiting lists for homestead housing lands where the plans for development are already drawn. Many wait longingly for mortgage funding and hope for the issuance of infrastructure-financing bonds that would enable rapid development - all to be federally guaranteed.

Such investments are low- or no-risk, and their positive effects on the state's construction industry and overall economy would be tremendous. But estate investors continue to find mainland shopping centers, brokerage houses, golf courses and oil well ventures of greater interest.

For several years, I have been working hard on the issue of leasehold reform through legislation and litigation to help bring fair lease rents or the opportunity of ownership to all classes of lessees.

Hawaiian tradition mandates that struggle for equity: "Malama pono kekahi i kekahi" means "take good care of one another."

Before Western contact and before land was "owned," there existed in Hawaii an interdependent arrangement between the chiefs, the people, the priests and the gods. That ritual partnership involved "pono" (right, just and fair) and "malama" (care of, care for and preserve).

Today, we also have the concept of fiduciary, which is the duty to act for the benefit of another. The estate desperately needs to meld and reconcile the three concepts of pono, malama and fidicuary for the good of all the people of Hawaii, not only native Hawaiians.

The most powerful opponent of leasehold reform has been the Bishop Estate, despite the tradition of Bernice Pauahi as expressed by her adopted sister Lydia Kamakaeha (Liliuokalani), who wrote:

"I have always said that under our own system in former days there was always plenty for prince or people; the latter were not paid in money nor were they taxed in purse. The chief of the overseer he appointed took proper care of their needs, and they in turn contributed to the support of his table. It was a repetition of the principle of family life."

In view of the estate's steadfastly militant opposition to leasehold reform, it is ironic that it was such reform for residential lessees and the consequent sale of lands that made multimillionaires of the current trustees.

Their investment "expertise" yielded only discord and losses of $34 million and $44 million to the estate in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

It is not my purpose to attack or condemn the trustees individually or collectively. I prefer to be guided again by the words of Pauahi's sister, Lydia, which she laid down while being held prisoner in Iolani Palace, and which I learned during my 10 years as a Kamehameha student:

Mai nana ino ino
(Behold not with malevolence).

Na hewa o kanaka
(The sins of man).

Aka e huikala
(But forgive).

A maemae no
(And cleanse).

As a teen-ager driving in from my grass house on the banks of our taro patches in Punaluu to my Kamehameha graduation ceremony, I recall singing proudly out loud our alma mater, "Be strong and ally Ye, O Sons of Hawaii."

A few weeks later, I sang that tune again in Cambridge, Mass., on the first night I walked across Harvard Yard to my freshman dormitory. I remembered especially these words from the second verse:

"Be firm and deny Ye, O Sons of Hawaii

Allurements that your race would overwhelm!"

Those allurements were then - and are today - those generated by greed and avarice.

Giving thought to solving the present crisis, I was intrigued to read the suggestion of highly regarded Bob Midkiff, son of former trustee Frank Midkiff, that KS/BE might best become a nonprofit corporation "like Harvard University."

KS/BE has an endowment estimated to be worth $8-$10 billion and is the wealthiest private school in America, perhaps the world. Coincidentally, Harvard has an endowment estimated to be worth $8-$10 billion and is the wealthiest private university in America, perhaps the world.

In the provision of quality education, Harvard is among the best anywhere and its governance is very well regarded. Kamehameha aspires to quality and its governance is seen as sadly flawed.

As an alumnus of both $10 billion institutions, I see one as a great success and one with grave problems, although I love them both.

On that spring day walking down Nuuanu with my fellow Kamehameha schoolmates, I recalled that I had just cast my mail-in ballot to elect members of the Harvard Board of Overseers.

In the letter with which I received my ballot, along with the candidates' biographical sketches, was the explanation of the fact that Harvard vests in its alumni "the authority to elect its entire senior governing board."

Harvard's nonprofit corporation reports to the Board of Overseers, which consists of 30 individuals; five are elected each year to serve six-year terms, and the body meets at least five times each year.

The elected board members serve without pay. Honor and duty - not money - are the factors that attract some of the most distinguished individuals in the world to serve and safeguard the best interests of the institution they love.

I recall a cousin of mine in Hauula telling me several years ago, "Eh, Kaapu, I been meaning to tell you, if you been keep your mout shut and wen play ball, you might be one Bishop Estate trustee today!"

Perhaps. But if I were a trustee today, I would:

1) Take steps to make KS/BE a nonprofit corporation, like Harvard.

2) Urge that all investments of revenues be made in Hawaii.

3) Resign and run for a position as an unpaid board member.

4) Still not keep my "mout" shut.

Kekoa Kaapu, a graduate of Kamehameha Schools and Harvard University, is the publisher of the Hawaii Public Interest Advocate. He is a former Honolulu city councilman.

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