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Does the Right Hand Know What the Left Hand Is Doing?

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

As the Economic Revitalization Task Force gets underway – at least the working subgroups are getting underway – the question that many have in the back of their minds is whether or not their comments and suggestions will be heard and whether or not lawmakers will do something about the suggestions being made.

Some observers have already expressed cynicism that despite all of these “public” meetings and input, the final recommendations will ignore many of the complaints and suggestions made by the average guy on the street. And why shouldn’t there be cynicism? The track record is already there with examples like the stonewalling of privatization and the denial that intimidation is the norm rather than the exception.

It was interesting to hear the disbelief of a state cabinet member that people are afraid to speak up and criticize because they fear reprisals. These reprisals come in the form of rejection of permit applications or insidious application of rules. That cabinet member needed only to get out of his office and hear the anecdotal stories about the restaurant owner on Kauai who, after complaining about the slowness of processing his application for a permit, was unreasonably cited for a minor infraction of the rules.

On the other hand, there is the example of a high ranking state official who told a group that they asked for people to point out which regulations were burdensome and they received no replies so they concluded that the regulatory environment wasn’t all that bad because people didn’t complain.

Perhaps that official should have spoken to the guy who complained that the “boiler inspection fee” just went from $10,000 a year to $100,000 a year. And, as he points out, there are no additional benefits for having to pay a fee that is ten times as much as it used to be. Or perhaps the official should have spoken to those in Honolulu Harbor who continue to lease their facilities from the state on a month to month lease, knowing that they could be kicked out in thirty days. With that kind of lack of certainty, is it any wonder why no one has been willing to invest in improvements that could otherwise make their businesses more efficient?

Then there is the issue of privatization. While the public and officials are being told that this issue can be worked out on a case by case basis, no one is telling the taxpayer that this prolonged process is costing them millions of dollars in legal fees not to mention the waste of administrators’ time in trying to sort out whether or not hula dancers and lei greeters at the Kona airport are supposed to be provided by public employees as opposed to private contractors.

It seems that when it comes down to fighting over whether a service should be provided by a person on the public payroll as opposed to a private contractor, government has lost all common sense. It has lost sight of the fact that taxpayers want the public services they pay for with their hard earned tax dollars delivered in the most efficient possible means at the lowest unit cost. If nothing else, it appears that the right hand of government does know what the left hand is doing.

It is interesting to note what the former prime minister of New Zealand had to share with summit participants. One, he noted, reform will be painful and two, it is time to do something new. The question is whether or not the summit will recommend what will obviously be painful and two whether or not they will recommend something “new.”

If nothing else, it has become quite obvious that the pressure is building within the electorate that will demand change. People are beginning to realize that what they were told to trust in the past is indeed a good part of the problem and that maintaining the status quo is really to the benefit of those who now control the system.

What is ironic is that if those who now control the system don’t make those fundamental changes they may soon find themselves out on the streets.

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