Auditor slams Hawaiian Home Lands homestead program

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Apr 17 2013 07:33:31 PM HST
Updated On: Apr 18 2013 07:15:16 AM HST

An audit sheds negative light on the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and their managing commission.

Lax management, millions of dollars in delinquent loans and a reluctance to terminate lessees who are chronically behind in payments.

That's the picture painted by an audit released Wednesday of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the commission charged with overseeing a program that is supposed to help thousands of Native Hawaiians.

The Hawaiian Home Lands Homestead program is set up as a lender of last resort.

But what happens if too many Native Hawaiians are chronically behind in payments?

The state auditor thinks the commission and the department are losing control of the situation.

"They need to rethink how they are doing their work," said Acting State Auditor Jan Yamane.

The audit found fault with the commission noting the rules and responsibilities are not clearly defined.

The lax guidance and oversight undermines DHHL's accountability.

Yamane said, "The department should be giving them better reporting.  They should be monitoring more closely the contested cases, any number of things that could help the commission in their decision that they are not getting right now."

The commission responded that while there is room for improvement, it doesn't believe the method the audit uses to compare its reporting is fair.

It also points out its mission includes keeping Hawaiians who hold leases on the land rather than putting them out on the street.

But, Yamane points out that may not be fair to other families who are still on the waiting list.

"If they are too lenient on these loans or repayment of the loans, the impact is not the department but the beneficiaries," said Yamane.

The department has about 10,000 leases statewide.  There are 26,000 people on the wait list.

The audit underscored that, in 2011, the department spent more than it had coming in.

The auditor's findings also take on a sense of urgency since DHHL' s ceded land funding, to the tune of $20 million annually, ends in 2015.

Click here to read the auditor's report.

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