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Civil Beat: Office of Hawaiian Affairs audit

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The Office of Hawaiian Affairs was born out of the 1978 Constitutional Convention. It's a semi autonomous department with the State of Hawaii.

Our Partners at Civil Beat got ahold of a draft copy of a scathing audit of the agency. Chad Blair is here to talk about it. 

Paula Akana: OHA has money. What is it supposed to be doing with it ?

Chad Blair: It's a $600 million trust that provides millions in grants every year. It has a trust obligation to help the Native Hawaiian community and advocate on their behalf  especially when it comes to health, education, culture, land, governance and economic self-sufficiency. 

Paula Akana: What did the audit find?

Chad Blair: It found quite a lot, especially that OHA money is being spent loosely. There's not enough guidelines for how it's being spent. And even when there are rules, those are sometimes disregarded. You can read the whole thing on our web page.

Paula Akana: What did it find the trustees do?

Chad Blair: One example is that trustees tripled their personal allowances from about $7,000 per year to $22,000. Some are spending the money on things like flight upgrades and fancy dinners.

Paula Akana: It also found abuse by the CEO?

Chad Blair: Yes. There were several instances in which the CEO approved expenditures, going against staff  recommendations to give money to what appear to be non-qualified organizations. 

Paula Akana: What has been the trustees response?

Chad Blair: The trustees told auditors that sometimes they knew the spending was wrong but they found it hard to say no. There is an understandable desire to help fellow Hawaiians, even if that help may have been inappropriate in some cases.

Paula Akana: OHA's response?

Chad Blair: Chair Colette Machado said the agency was very disappointed that the draft audit was leaked to Civil Beat, because it is incomplete. The final audit will include OHA's official response. Machado also said that OHA also respects the auditor's work and said that the agency is working on addressing the issues that have been raised.

Paula Akana: Any repercussions?

Chad Blair: So far, not yet — at least, not anything that has been made public. Stay tuned on that one. But it could make it harder to get money from the Legislature this year. And several OHA trustees are up for re-election this year.

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