Guest Commentary – Audit the Honolulu Rail Project

What does it say about the state of governance in Hawaii that endorsing basic standards of fiscal responsibility is a revolutionary act?

Ever since the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii launched its campaign to “audit the rail,” we’ve heard lots of excuses and evasions as to why an independent, thorough audit of Honolulu’s over-budget and behind-schedule rail project isn’t necessary.

But we’ve also seen that the public wants answers about the system and isn’t happy with the political foot-dragging.

Now, we’re finally seeing some results.

Trevor Ozawa, Honolulu City Councilmember for District 4 (Ala Moana to Hawaii Kai), has introduced a resolution calling for an, “economy and efficiency audit” of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), in order to discover the causes of the project’s significant and troubling cost overruns.

Click to read the full resolution

Noting in his resolution that the estimated cost for the rail is now more than $10 billion — up from $5.1 million in 2012 — Ozawa points out that HART has not updated its financial plan “to reflect the rail project’s current financial condition”; that the semi-autonomous city agency has not been maintaining accurate and complete financial records; that its management, operations and maintenance plans are “outdated and unreliable”; that it lacks the proper tools to administer contract payments; and that the actual costs of the rail project are not being properly managed against budgeted costs.

Most of these failings aren’t news to anyone who has followed the rail controversy, but it is encouraging to see a key Hawaii policymaker finally demanding answers.

The resolution even states that the audit should both identify the causes of inefficient and uneconomical practices and investigate whether the “entity audited has complied with laws and regulations on matters of economy and efficiency.”

The resolution notes that in June, “certain HART board members indicated that the HART board would not fund a special audit that would examine the cost overruns for the rail project.” But, the resolution adds, “there must be a higher level of transparency concerning the reasons for the cost overruns.”

We agree.

It may have taken some time, but our message is getting through.

So let’s keep up the pressure. Ask your friends and family to join the campaign to audit the rail. If they haven’t already, they can add their names to our online petition at AuditTheRail.com.

E Hana Kakou (Let’s work together!),

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.
President/CEO Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

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