Thursday, May 3, 2001

City loosens restraints
on ADB protesters

The issue: The city has agreed to
a court decree allowing peaceful
demonstrations during next week's
Asian Development Bank meeting.

PROTESTERS planning to demonstrate against the meeting of the Asian Development Bank here have won concessions from the city to go forward with their activities. Law-enforcement authorities are prepared, as they should be, to deal with any violence that might occur, but also should assure peaceful protests. It should not have taken a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii to gain that assurance.

Organizers of the protest have predicted as many as 7,000 people will participate in demonstrations when delegates meet at the Hawaii Convention Center from Monday through Friday of next week, but the turnout could be much smaller. City Corporation Council David Arakawa said the city has "bent over backwards" to accommodate the protest organizers, but the ADBwatch organizers of the planned demonstrations complained that police had refused to discuss ground rules.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court last week to restrain the city from creating security zones that staff attorney Brent White says were aimed at "trying to shut down free expression." It was only in the context of the lawsuit that the city eased restrictions and agreed to ease measures to thwart the demonstrations.

A consent decree issued by the court will allow protesters to march through the streets on Wednesday from Magic Island around the convention center to Kapiolani Park without abiding by a state law requiring general liability insurance -- a law that is probably unconstitutional.

Protesters will be allowed to congregate along the Ala Wai behind the convention center, an area that the city earlier had decided to close. The sidewalk along Kapiolani Boulevard across from the convention center also will be open to the public, including protesters.

Authorities are taking all precautions to deal with the kind of violent activities that have tainted largely peaceful anti-globalization demonstrations at other cities around the world. Federal agencies led by the FBI are providing support. However, White is confident that the demonstrations will be peaceful, and there is reason to believe that protesters will not travel all the way from the mainland to engage in violence.

An orderly convention conducted alongside peaceful demonstrations would demonstrate Hawaii's suitability for meetings of other international financial institutions, which could be a boon for the state. For that to happen, police and protesters alike will have to be on their best behavior.

Reform measures should
be applied with care

The issues: Two new laws will
allow privatization of some
government services and curb
public worker health-care costs.

With the Legislature's passage of a privatization bill, the governor and the mayors have been given a powerful tool with which to remodel government. It is an instrument to be used judiciously. The new law gives the executive branches the authority to contract with private businesses for services provided now by public employees. Lawmakers also set up a fund intended to curb the rising cost of health care to public workers and retirees.

The aggressive reform measures come as the state and counties are struggling to make ends meet as spending outpaces revenue. The new law allows them to negotiate their contributions to health plans with the unions and set up a trust fund to buy affordable coverage, with employees making up differences. If health benefits had not been changed, the state would have paid $1 billion or more a year in premiums by 2013, according to the state auditor.

Clearly, the health program needed to be changed, but passing costs on to retirees, those in their 70s or older, is unfair. Retirement benefits are based on dollar values set decades ago and the contract under which they worked promised them 100 percent health coverage. To deny them these benefits this late in their lives would be wrong.

The Legislature should therefore consider revising the law to fulfill earlier promises. Younger union members say they would embrace this idea.

They are not keen about privatization, however, because that means some could lose jobs. Union leaders say the new law gives too much power to the governor and the mayors. Although workers would be consulted about contracting their jobs to private firms, the executives will make the decisions.

There's no doubt that governments can improve the way they do business. But that must be weighed rationally because not all public services can be best provided by private companies nor should privatization be a retreat of government from its responsibilities to the public. Cheaper may not be better.

There is an ever present danger of corruption. Elected officials aren't immune to granting jobs to their pals in the private sector, which would leave them open to charges of favoritism. Cronyism would destroy public trust.

These reforms create better government. When the much-maligned public workers perform well, however, they should be given their due.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (USPS 249460) is published daily by
Oahu Publications at 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-500, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.
Periodicals postage paid at Honolulu, Hawaii. Postmaster: Send address changes to
Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin