Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hawaii: At risk for corruption? (commentary)

Earlier this year, All Hawaii News participated in a novel project -- creating a nationwide risk analysis for how susceptible state governments are to corruption. The collaborative project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International called upon journalists, analysts and experts in every state to rate government agencies on hundreds of benchmarks.

Hawaii didn't do too badly, based on the laws on the books for public access, transparency and ethics. An overall score of 74 percent, a C, with a ranking of 10th among the states, puts the Aloha State squarely in the status quo of government accountability.

But where Hawaii really falls short is in the implementation of those good laws that are already on the books. Lawmakers are ready, even eager, to create commissions, boards and oversight panels.

Unfortunately, the paper tigers have no teeth. There's a lot of style, but no substance.

Public records are, in theory, open to the public, yet the Office of Information Practices, charged with enforcing the provisions, can't force state agencies to provide records.

The state insurance commissioner is supposed to regulate insurance rates, yet he has to beg the Legislature to allow him to do his job.

The appearance of conflicts of interest in the Legislature is rampant, with lawmakers allowed to vote on the very projects they lobby for.

Hawaii has been slow to adopt technology to allow for public oversight of campaign financing and lobbyists' and public officials' disclosures.

Ultimately, oversight of government falls to an already overburdened court system.

Hawaii government leaders can make use of this report in one of two ways. They can look at other states and feel satisfied that at least Hawaii isn't as bad as, say Georgia, which ranked dead last with 49 percent.

Or, they can take the report as a blueprint -- a way to focus on what needs fixing first. They can pinpoint specific areas to make state government more accessible, transparent and fair for all of the state's 1.4 million people. In other words, state leadership can be leaders.

Let's hope they do the latter.

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