- Associated Press - Friday, February 23, 2018

HONOLULU (AP) - A state audit said the Hawaii Tourism Authority suffers from lax oversight and isn’t ensuring that taxpayer funds are spent effectively.

The audit report released this month said that the semi-autonomous state entity’s exemption from the procurement code has led to some problems. State auditor Les Kondo said lawmakers have given the authority much leeway, leading to it operate like a private organization.

The audit said the authority has reimbursed lavish contractor expenses, failed to require receipts and disregarded its own policies for how contracts are awarded and evaluated.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is responsible for marketing the state.

Authority Board Chairman Rick Fried said the agency has rebutted the audit, which he said did not give the agency credit for improvements that have occurred since mid-2016.

“Most of the audit encompassed a time when the current HTA administration was not there,” Fried said. “Based on my five years as a board member under this administration and others, key improvements have been made to improve budget precision, increase transparency and encourage greater board interaction.”

Fried said the audit also failed to acknowledge the authority’s tourism contributions, which have resulted in record arrivals and spending, greater dispersal of tourists to neighbor islands and improvements to “virtually every performance number.”

Last year, lawmakers proposed several measures to increase the authority’s accountability and transparency. The measures failed.

The audit recommended that the authority work to ensure that procurement protocols “are set upon a strong foundation with planning and deliverables to hold contractors accountable.”

A bright light in the audit was the finding that major marketing contracts covering Oceania, China, Hong Kong and Korea were executed in accordance with the authority’s policies and procedures.

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