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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

Questions linger on Lingle's China trip

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state Procurement Office is looking into whether Lingle administration officials may have violated procurement law when they selected a nonprofit to help with Gov. Linda Lingle's trip to China last year.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism picked the nonprofit Pacific and Asian Affairs Council to handle $270,000 raised and spent on the June trip. The council, which was selected without a bidding process, then paid companies as subcontractors under the direction of DBEDT, a service for which the council received nearly $7,000.

Procurement questions surfaced yesterday during a Senate confirmation hearing for the position of administrator of the Procurement Office. Members of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Government Operations asked nominee Aaron Fujioka whether his office is looking into concerns about possible violations of procurement law by DBEDT.

Fujioka, who has been working as the procurement office's administrator since last fall, said he is in the process of gathering information about how DBEDT organized the 10-day trip.

"I wouldn't characterize it as an investigation," he said. "At this point, we are seeking information. We're trying to make a determination at this point (on) whether procurement (law) is applicable."

DBEDT asked private companies to donate money for the trip to cover extras such as the travel expenses and honorariums for local entertainers who accompanied the governor. The donations were sent to the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, which paid vendors based on instructions from DBEDT.

Fujioka said it too early to tell whether DBEDT violated state procurement law.

"The procurement code applies to all procurement contracts made by governmental bodies, whether the consideration for that contract is cash, revenues, realizations and other forms.

"At this stage, we're trying to make a determination if a procurement contract existed (with the council). We're trying to make that determination now before drawing any conclusions," Fujioka said.

If a state agency violates procurement laws, its officials typically have to explain why a violation occurred, implement procedures to prevent a recurrence and sometimes must undergo procurement training, Fujioka said.

If there's a possible criminal violation, the matter is referred to the state Attorney General's Office.

The attorney general has said said Lingle aides did not violate criminal law. Attorney General Mark Bennett added that it is the responsibility of the state Procurement Office and other agencies to determine if DBEDT violated rules in a manner that doesn't rise to a criminal level.

DBEDT Director Ted Liu yesterday said through a spokesman that the procurement office last year cleared the use of the council for the trade mission. He added that there has been no determination of a procurement law violation made against DBEDT.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.