Hawaii needs a better watchdog

Potential police misconduct.

Potential corruption on major projects in Hawaii

No oversight of governmental actions including the suspension of the Sunshine Law and ignoring the needs of people who need government services.

And the list goes on and on.

For years Hawaii, in general, has been dogged by the feeling of many that in the henhouse of the state, the only group that has been allowed to watch are the foxes. Recent stories regarding procurement rules being violated at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART), as well as the ongoing sagas of the Lindani Myeni and Iremamber Sykap police shootings, have led have given weight to that feeling.

And these are just the most recent examples.

Turns out it could very well be true – that the government watchdogs that are supposed to root out corruption have been taken over by enablers to the corruption. One of the most glaring examples of this takeover took place a few years ago when Chuck Totto, the City and County of Honolulu Ethics Director, was put aside by the Mayoral administration of Kirk Caldwell.

File:HK North Point Java Road ICAC HQ Building Logo 2 a.jpg
The ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) is a worthy model to look at for Hawaii.
PC: “File:HK North Point Java Road ICAC HQ Building Logo 2 a.jpg” by KRTaikoo is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

But you may counter that “well, we have the legislative bodies (the City Council and the State Legislature) to hold people accountable.” Turns out those bodies seem to either be feeble in calling for accountability of the Governor or are on their trips trying to play gotcha games with appointees. In other words, even the elected watchdogs have decided to not hold authority entities accountable and instead talk up a good game only.

With that, you may then ask “what is the solution?” The answer to that could be what Hong Kong created years ago to root out its corruption.

When you talk about corruption, your not just dealing with the corrupt entity. You also have to address the people, companies, industries, and citizens that are either involved or are affected by the corruption. Turns out corruption affects all kinds of “political and citizen circles”.

Hong Kong, in its creation of an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), worked to solve the problem of how graft and corruption affected society overall. With its civil service acting in a pay-to-play model in the late 1960s and early 1970’s, economic development of the British Colony (now known as a Special Administrative Region, or SAR) was impeded. The impediment is very similar to what we have here in Hawaii – that one needs to pay up for their projects (some with substantial investments) don’t go through.

You say that “corruption and graft like what they saw in Hong Kong don’t happen here?”, may one be reminded of the recent indictments of five employees from the City and County of Honolulu’s Dept. of Planning and Permitting, instilling a pay-to-play model to approve building permits.

The ICAC in Hong Kong, as a model proposed for Hawaii to follow, would be structured similarly to how Hollywood created the mythical “Hawaii Five-0” – that it’s a creation of the Governors’ office, accountable only to that office of activities that it does. In this case, the activities would be to root out corruption wherever it may find it.

This type of structure helped Hong Kong move from being one of the most graft-ridden cities in the world to one of the least corrupt. In Hong Kong, the ICAC also helped clean up the image of the police, rooting out corruption in the ranks and instilling public confidence in the force. Although Honolulu has a Police Commission that is set up to oversee the Honolulu Police, it has come under increasing criticism as to how it handled the Louis and Katherine Kealoha scandal as well as their initial love-for but lost love for the outgoing police chief Susan Ballard

Hong Kong
Not only does the Hong Kong ICAC have a main office, they have satellite offices throughout the SAR. They also have an active outreach on media.
PC: “Hong Kong” by DrBob317 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In conclusion, if the State of Hawaii intends to move beyond the effects of the COVID saga, and the corruption scandals that have plagued it, to the benefit of Governor Ige’s “Hawaii 2.0”  plan to bring in new industries and new opportunities for Hawaii people, it needs to get its “house in order” when it comes to its image.

A creation of an ICAC in Hawaii, overseen by its executive, would go a long way in promoting Hawaii as a place that one can do business in. It would provide confidence that the investment coming in will play on an even field legally and morally. For the next generations of our residents, it should be worth pursuing.