House Panel Subpoenas Land Fund, Agriculture Agency

Civil Beat
By Blaze Lovell

Both agencies were the targets of recent critical examinations by State Auditor Les Kondo.

A Hawaii House of Representatives investigation of the Agribusiness Development Corp. and a state land and development fund is starting to ramp up on the heels of audits critical of the two state agencies.

On Tuesday, a House investigative committee issued subpoenas to the ADC, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture. The committee plans to start hearings with witnesses in September and a final report with recommendations is due in December, one month ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

The committee is seeking “any and all records, documents, materials, things and other evidence” from those agencies submitted to the state auditor as part of inquiries that led to the two audits, according to Rep. Della Au Belatti, the chair of the committee.

The committee is seeking two batches of documents from each agency. The first batch is due Aug. 9 and should include all the documents provided to the state auditor, which conducted the audits. A second batch of documents is due Aug. 23 and should include materials indicating how the agencies are responding to recommendations made in the audits.

Belatti, the House majority leader, said the agencies have already tentatively agreed to turn over those records.

State Auditor Les Kondo found that the Special Land and Development Fund is hindered by a lack of transparency and accountability. Kondo also found that the ADC has not done enough to reinvigorate former sugar and pineapple land.

As part of the audit of the land fund, Kondo’s office “examined contracts, leases, permits, financial records, annual reports, public meeting minutes, and other relevant documents.”

Kondo attempted to get financial records from the ADC but found that “ADC’s record-keeping was inconsistent, incomplete, and in many cases, non-existent.” The record keeping was so bad that a financial audit had to be suspended, according to the report.

The office requested documents related to land management policies, land acquisition guidelines, an inventory of landholdings and files on tenants. Instead, it got a four-page memo offering only general guidance on land management.

Rep. Amy Perruso, a critic of the ADC, asked that the subpoenas be expanded to include all documents that Kondo asked for, instead of only what was provided to the auditor.

Belatti said she is not inclined to expand the scope for the first batch of documents because the committee wants a quick turnaround.

Rep. Dale Kobayashi questioned why the committee needed the first batch of documents since the auditor already used those documents to develop the two reports.

“I don’t really see the point of what we’re doing here asking for this,” Kobayashi said. “And it is quite an ask.”

The documents are intended to get the committee ready before witnesses are called, according to Belatti.

Those hearings are expected to be held during the weeks of Sept. 13 and Sept. 20.

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