Honolulu DPP changes permitting process amid bribery investigation

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — A federal investigation prompted Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) to make some changes to provide more transparency in its permit processes, an industry expert said this is a much-needed change.

Permit applications for new single-family dwellings will only be accepted online through the DPP’s ePlans system starting Tuesday, June 1.

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Construction engineer Lance Luke said electronic applications can provide applicants a better way to keep track of their permit’s status.

“Different cities are doing it already. They’re having electronic submission,” Luke said. “It’s greatly improved, because now you don’t have people standing in line, or people calling up going what’s the status of my plans.”  

The DPP plans to switch all residential applications including additions and alterations to online by the beginning of 2022. The department eventually plans to move commercial application to electronic submissions as well.

Luke said, the pivot to an electronic application portal should also help supervisors know how long each application sits waiting for review.

Luke said, “One of those things where you can kind of rest assured that at least something, your plans are being monitored, something’s going on, there’s a better system in place than what’s happening.”  

The changes come following a federal bribery investigation involving DPP employees.

At least three current and two former workers are accused of accepting bribes to speed up the permitting process.

The DPP says it also plans to hire an independent investigator to examine its internal controls.

“People in the industry knew it was going on. But basically, they just accepted that is the status quo,” Luke said. “If you want something done, it’s a pay to play atmosphere. And I’m hopeful that with the changes that the department is going to make, it’ll stop.”  

The DPP is also looking to eliminate cash payments.

The three current DPP employees who are being investigated were placed on immediate paid leave.

The DPP says it continues to fully cooperate with the FBI investigation.

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