Saturday, April 10, 1999

Nonbid contracts
should be avoided

Bullet The issue: Nonbid contracts were awarded for the planning and construction of schools in Kapolei
Bullet Our view: Using the bidding process would have avoided questions of favoritism.

NONBID contracts to build schools in Kapolei became an issue in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign. Republican candidate Linda Lingle cited the $37 million in contracts to plan and construct a middle school and $4.3 million to plan a high school, awarded to a company partially owned by Bert A. Kobayashi, a friend and supporter of Governor Cayetano, as an example of favoritism. Cayetano responded that the contracts were awarded on a nonbid basis to expedite construction of the urgently needed schools, that they were legal and a good deal for the state.

Now the same company, Makai Village Partnership, has been awarded another nonbid contract to build the Kapolei high school, estimated to cost $75 million. The company had previously won the contracts for the design and planning of the project. Kobayashi is president of PAB Investment Corp., one of two general partners for Makai Village Partnership.

Kathy Inouye, chief operating officer, said the company was taking a risk by proceeding with the project although the funding had not been assured. Lester Chuck, a Department of Education official in charge of facilities, explaining the need for fast action, said if the high school is not opened on time, students will have to attend Campbell High, causing extreme overcrowding.

The previous administration of John Waihee was criticized for its awards of nonbid contracts to cronies, but Cayetano justified the nonbid contracts in the case of the Kapolei schools on the ground that it was necessary to move quickly.

That argument ignores the question of why the process of building the schools didn't begin soon enough to avoid this problem. Apparently, this was either a miscalculation by someone in the administration or a simple failure to address the need for new schools soon enough.

Sending major construction projects out to bid is done for a reason: It can save money, in this case taxpayers' money. It can also ensure that contracts are awarded impartially. Obviously it can take longer to conduct the bidding than to simply give the contract to a company, but that is not usually considered acceptable.

The governor contended that if anything Makai Village Partnership was doing the state a favor in accepting the contract, not the other way around. Maybe so, but favors usually are expected to be repaid. The bidding process is designed to avoid such questions.


Chinese premier’s visit

Bullet The issue: China's record of human rights abuses, threats to attack Taiwan and alleged thefts of U.S. nuclear weapons secrets
Bullet Our view: China must change its policies before a real partnership with the United States will be possible.

PRESIDENT Clinton went too far in defending his be-nice-to-China policy before the visiting Premier Zhu Rongji, but at least he didn't give away the store on trade issues by prematurely agreeing to support China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Clinton and Zhu vowed to conclude a comprehensive trade agreement later this year. To be acceptable, it must address the vast imbalance of trade in China's favor and the use of prison labor in Chinese exports.

For his part, the Communist leader again rejected U.S. demands that China renounce the use of force against Taiwan, a major cause of strains in relations between Washington and Beijing.

Zhu sounded conciliatory when he said China would cooperate with U.S. investigations of Chinese theft of nuclear weapons secrets and illegal contributions to Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. But since China has already denied those allegations, his statements probably amounted to no more than a polite gesture.

Zhu ridiculed the suggestion of Chinese meddling in U.S. politics. He rejected charges of human rights abuses in China as "unfair" and an intrusion in its internal affairs. In other words, get lost. That did not impress Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., a Chinese-American member of the House, and one of the legislators whom Zhu met. Wu said he was "deeply concerned that the recent suppression of political and religious freedom critically undermines China's credibility in the international arena."

Until China ends such abuses, true partnership with the United States will be impossible.


Hawaiian tuition

Bullet The issue: Waiver of tuition for Hawaiian students at the University of Hawaii
Bullet Our view: OHA or the Bishop Estate should finance the waivers.

PRESSURE is building for the Legislature to mandate waiving of tuition for Hawaiians at the University of Hawaii. As a means of encouraging Hawaiians to pursue higher education, the proposal has merit. However, the UH is already hard-hit by budget cuts and would find it difficult to absorb the loss of $7.2 million in tuition revenue.

Meanwhile the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in ceded lands payments and is negotiating with the state for hundreds of millions more. It would make more sense for OHA to finance the tuition waivers than to try to squeeze more money out of the university.

There is also the Bishop Estate, the mission of which is to educate Hawaiian children. The estate could easily afford to pay for tuition waivers.

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