Saturday, February 10, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, February 10, 2001

OHA trustees approve rebuttal to state audit

By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Splitting across factional lines, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees yesterday approved a response to a highly critical state audit of the agency charged with the betterment of Native Hawaiians.

While both the audit and official response remain confidential, trustees again gave varying responses to charges of financial mismanagement and spending irregularities within the audit.

The official response, approved in a 6-3 vote, will be submitted to state Auditor Marion Higa on Monday. Individual trustees may submit their own comments to the official response.

Though all nine trustees did not agree on the response, OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said she hoped it showed they stand united in their rebuttal to the audit.

"The board of trustees has not breached its fiduciary responsibilities," Apoliona said. "OHA has provided corrections to erroneous assumptions or missing facts in the auditor’s draft report. Our fiscal department assures me individual trustees have cleared up identified issues. If there has been wrongdoing, the responsible parties will answer to the law."

Before the vote, however, trustees Clayton Hee and Rowena Akana voiced their objections to the official response, and trustee Charles Ota repeatedly mocked the process as a "human comedy."

Hee disputed the auditor’s finding that a delay in the termination of a money manager had lost OHA $1.3 million, and that a further delay in the hiring of international managers had cost $2 million.

"The auditor is wrong," he said.

Hee also asked OHA administrator Randall Ogata why half the $12,000 that unnamed trustees had used improperly from their annual allowance money could not be accounted for.

The audit reports that one trustee spent $1,000 of her $7,200 allowance on hairdressing, a former trustee spent $8,000 on free loans to family members, and the allowance also paid for dentures for an OHA beneficiary.

Meanwhile, Akana took offense to the auditor’s criticism of OHA’s management of the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan fund, a federal program that provides low-income Hawaiians with loans to start businesses.

The program’s delinquency rate is exceptionally high. But its supporters say that is to be expected, as recipients must have been denied loans by at least two commercial banks to qualify.

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