Tuesday, December 30, 1997

‘Broken Trust’ authors
on trustee selection

THE five distinguished citizens who wrote the explosive "Broken Trust" article published in the Star-Bulletin Aug. 9 have followed up with another article on Sunday. This one is not another bombshell of criticism of the Bishop Estate trustees and the Supreme Court justices who appointed them. Rather, it addresses the issue of selection of future trustees in light of the announcement by four of the five justices that they will no longer make trustee appointments.

We are in general agreement with the recommendations, the most important of which is that the probate court should order the attorney general to develop criteria and procedures for the selection. "The attorney general, in turn, should solicit many views, especially those of Native Hawaiians, individually and as members of Native Hawaiian organizations," the authors said.

They wisely stressed the importance of openness, saying no meeting or process should be secret. This is vital in view of the justifiable suspicion that has grown up around the selection process and the evident importance of political influence. Only through total openness can such suspicion be dispelled.

Obviously, as the authors recommend, trustees should be selected on the basis of competence in areas important to the trust, plus character and appreciation of Hawaiian culture.

The "Broken Trust" authors make three recommendations that will be controversial: that the trustees be limited to members of the Protestant religion, as required by the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop; that appointments not be limited to persons of Hawaiian blood; and that no arbitrary cap be placed on the trustees' compensation.

The authors reason that the terms of the will should be honored unless there is a judicial determination that they are unconstitutional; and that trustee compensation should be limited only to what is "reasonable" under the circumstances. It is noteworthy with regard to the Protestant-only recommendation that one of the authors is Msgr. Charles Kekumano, a Catholic priest and former member of the Catholic hierarchy. As for the issue of Hawaiian blood, the authors assert that appointments should be made strictly "on competence and character."

The authors also recommend that the current age limit of 70 for trustees be abolished. To deal with the problem of aging trustees, they would institute fixed terms, which could be renewed. Fixed terms would also provide opportunities to get rid of trustees whose performance was unsatisfactory.

Finally the authors suggest that the Bishop Estate should be reorganized in some unspecified manner, dispensing with the current system of five full-time trustees. Although this may well be useful, it is an ambitious and controversial project that should not delay meeting the urgent need to establish a better system for selecting the trustees.

Bishop Estate Archive

Politics in Japan

JAPAN appears to be heading into a period of political uncertainty that may darken the clouds over its troubled economy. The main opposition group, the New Frontier Party, has disbanded, inspiring speculation that a challenge to the current government of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto may be coming.

The scenario calls for followers of New Frontier leader Ichiro Ozawa to support conservatives in Hashimoto's ruling Liberal Democratic Party to unseat the prime minister. Hashimoto's popularity has plunged to a record low 30 percent because of his handling of the economy, which continues to flounder in the face of turmoil in smaller Asian markets.

The New Frontier Party was formed three years ago out of nine small parties, with the idea of establishing a two-party system. Ozawa, a former member of the LDP and a longtime kingmaker, announced at the last NFP meeting that he would form a new party in January.

The party reportedly would have about 100 lawmakers, with 80 holding seats in the Diet's lower house and 20 in the upper house. The party would not be as big as the NFP, but would be the largest bloc in parliament after the LDP. The ruling party has a bare four-seat majority in the lower house and 117 seats in the upper house, where it rules in an alliance with smaller parties.

Some LDP members believe that only a change of leadership can restore domestic and foreign confidence in the Japanese economy.

Ozawa has been a forthright advocate of reform of the heavily bureaucratic governmental system, but has been too blunt for many people's tastes. With Japan experiencing prolonged economic difficulties, the voters may decide to swallow their dislike for his style and go for a leader who pledges to make big changes.

Fastening seat belts

EVERYONE who has taken an airline flight has been urged to keep his seat belt fastened as a precaution even if the seatbelt warning light is off. The injuries -- and one death -- sustained on a United Airlines flight that encountered turbulence while en route from Tokyo to Honolulu make that advice suddenly seem much more worth taking.

Turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants in non-fatal accidents, Federal Aviation Administration statistics show. Turbulence killed two people and seriously injured 63 over a 15-year period. Both passengers who died were not wearing their seat belts while the seat belt sign was illuminated.

After two serious events in June 1995, the FAA issued an advisory to passengers to wear seat belts whenever they are seated. Most of the injuries that occur because of turbulence are preventable if people wear their seat belts. Keeping seat belts fastened is no trouble. The trouble can come if they aren't.

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