(BIVN) – On February 22, during a special meeting in Hilo, the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents voted to conduct an internal, financial management audit of Mauna Kea activities.
“We think that the time is appropriate for us to proactively look at this,” said Vice Chair Benjamin Asa Kudo, “in light of the public concerns that have hovered over this controversy over the last two years or so.”
The measure was debated by the regents in the conference hall of the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center.
The internal financial audit is not to be confused with a forensic audit, like the one being proposed in the state senate, which “is more an audit geared toward looking at misappropriation of funds or fraud,” Kudo described.
“We are not suggesting that kind of an audit,” said Regent Michael McEnerney of the proposed senate bill. “That is the purview of a certified fraud auditor. That’s a very special kind of audit.”
SB757 SD1 puts the state auditor to work conducting a forensic financial audit of the University of Hawaiʻi’s activities related to Mauna Kea, including the UH system, the UH Institute For Astronomy, the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the Mauna Kea observatories and Mauna Kea Support Services, and other related affairs such as legal services and contracts.
It was the only proposal to be endorsed in the consensus-driven Mauna Kea ‘aha convened in Hilo in recent months, and therefor has the support of the Mauna Kea hui of petitioners. Many astronomy supporters oppose the bill, calling it part of “a witchhunt with the intention of destroying the Hawaii astronomy community.”
The University’s Vice President for Budget and Finance, Kalbert Young, said UH can support the measure “if it is amended to request that the State Auditor review the University’s Internal Audit of the University’s and RCUH’s
programs relating to Maunakea following the acceptance of that report” by the Board of Regent’s Independent Audit Committee.
“In order not to duplicate (the proposed legislative) effort, we are requesting a financial management audit, which is not the same as a forensic audit,” Kudo told fellow regents.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Regent Jeffrey Portnoy. “I’m not sure whether in fact it’s a reaction to the bill, but I do have concerns about an internal audit. I think there’s already sufficient public suspicion about Mauna Kea, about the university’s role in Mauna Kea, and my fear is that those who have a pre-belief that the university has mismanaged Mauna Kea – and I’m not saying that I know all the facts, I’m not suggesting that’s occurred – will I think discount any audit that is done internally.”
“Anything that is internal to the university would be dismissed by most people,” said Regent Wayne Higaki, who at first thought “it would be a waste of time and energy,” before hearing from UH System President David Lassner.
“This is one of those times when I actually believe that our internal auditor has the capability to help the administration understand the complex finances,” said Lassner, who called the proposed senate bill punitive. “I’m not aware of any criminal activity or fraud, but the actual finances of this enterprise are quite complicated.”
The regents voted to approve conducting the internal audit.
Senate Bill SB757 SD1 will go before the Senate Ways and means Committee for a public decision making on February 28.