Baha’i Chile Temple Construction: Math Challenge

It has certainly been too long since we discussed the Baha’i Chile temple project. In case this is new to you, here is an introductory video featuring the architect of the building, Siamak Hariri.

As you may recall, in a letter dated April 14 2005, the Universal House of Justice wrote that the cost would be $27 million (US dollars) with a 3 year construction time period:

Total cost of the project is estimated at twenty-seven million dollars, and the plans now call for its completion within a period of three years.

Anyone with an iota of experience with large construction projects would know that such initial estimates are always far too conservative. Having completed the huge Arc project just a few years ago, I assumed that the UHJ was experienced enough to make that judgement. Therefore, I reserved my caution, hoping for miracle:

I’m not sure just how realistic the $27 million (or the three year time table) is. Such projects have a tendency to run over-budget, especially in a developing country. But then again, the project team could pull it off without a hitch. I wish them the best.

Of course, things did not go as planned. The Baha’i Chile Temple was not finished in 2008. In fact, the engineering firm of Soheil Mosun hired by the UHJ was able to work out all the kinks in their software (originally intended for aeronautical modeling, not free standing structures like a building) in early 2007. With that in place, the project could proceed to actually starting to fabricate the material.

Fast forward to today and we have news that they are finally putting spades in the ground and begun excavation. This is the very first steps in the long construction process. And it has come 5 years after the purchase of the land and 3 years after the initial completion date (2007-2008). But being behind schedule shouldn’t surprise anyone considering the polemic that surrounded the project from the onset.

What should concern Baha’is is the math involved with the construction costs and the funds that have been contributed for the Chile Temple project. Initially the cost estimate was $27 million. The new estimate is $38 million – a 41% increase.

As well, the Universal House of Justice writes in a recent letter that so far, approximately $20 million has been raised, leaving $18 million still to be raised:

However, if we look at information from various National Spiritual Assemblies, it is clear that much more than $20 million has already been contributed.

Consider that the official 2009 annual report from the US NSA includes the following (from page 48):

Chilean Temple Initiative The American Bah??’? community has, to date, contributed $12.7 million to the construction of the Mother Temple of South America. It has passionately answered the call of the National Spiritual Assembly to contribute the ?lion’s share? of the $27 million projected cost of the last of the continental Mashriqu’l-Adhk??rs. Since the last Annual Report over $1 million has been contributed to the Chilean Temple Fund through direct contributions, the Automatic Contribution System, pledges, and ?in honor? contributions.

The UHJ asked the US Baha’is to take point in this endeavor and they have performed admirably. The Chile Temple initiative is actually part of the Kingdom Project and the website (chilean-temple.org) is operated by the US NSA.

Back to the numbers: since that was in 2009, if we assume that the same general pace of donations was maintained, then we have the US contributing $12.7 million as well as an additional $1 million since that report in 2009. So that is a total of approximately $13.7 million.

From data available through the Canadian Charities Directorate of the Canadian Revenue Agency, we know that the Baha’i NSA contributed $12.5 million in 2009:

In 2008 the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada sent $2.9 million outside of Canada but it did not breakdown that amount into individual countries so we do not know how much, if any, was destined to Chile. The breakdown that you see above was only introduced in 2010. Likewise in 2007, the Canadian NSA sent $9.8 million outside of Canada. And in 2006, $5 million and finally in 2005 when the Chilean Temple fundraising began, $2.8 million.

So if we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that none of the amounts from 2005-2008 sent outside of Canada (not even 5%) were destined to Chile for the construction of the Temple and if we again, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that no other funds since 2009 have been collected and sent for the same purpose, we still have a total of $12.5 million.

With the $13.7 million from the US that is a total of $26.2 million. That amount has already been collected and forwarded to Chile by the US and Canada. Of course, these are just two countries. We are ignoring all of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, etc. Some countries are wealthier than others and are thus able to contribute much more than others. From travels and my own knowledge of the Baha’i communities, my guesstimate is that the European Baha’i community, while small in number, is very wealthy. Especially Germany, UK, Italy, Spain and France. Even more wealth is focused in the Middle East. But again, we give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that all these countries have donated zero towards the Chilean Temple project.

With the total of $26.2 we have $6.2 million more than the UHJ writes in their letter above. Where did those $6.2 million go?

That is, instead of $18 million still to be contributed, we really have just $11.8 left to collect to have a sum of $38 million.

And if we do add in some figure for the other countries as well as bringing the total up to reflect donations sent after 2009 until the present, then the difference between the two becomes even larger!

I’ve tried to base this on known facts but if we expand it to reasonable speculation by removing all the ‘benefits of doubt’ that were mentioned above, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the total of $38 (or even more!) had already been collected for this project.

Unfortunately, getting an accurate handle on such things is made impossible by the opacity that pervades international Baha’i reporting when it comes to anything to do with finances. At the national level, as you can see, we have some information from NSA annual reports. Some NSA’s like Canada, sadly do not respect the Baha’i community that they represent enough to release an annual report. This leaves the obligatory disclosures they must make to the CRA as the only source of real information.

I hope that such discrepancies outlined above do not reflect a culture of incompetence but have some other explanation. The only real way to know that is through transparency and open communication – something wholly lacking today. I’m reminded of what Shoghi Effendi wrote:

The duties of those whom the friends [Bah??’?s] have freely and conscientiously elected as their representatives are no less vital and binding than the obligations of those who have chosen them. Their function is not to dictate, but to consult, and consult not only among themselves, but as much as possible with the friends whom they represent. They must regard themselves in no other light but that of chosen instruments for a more efficient and dignified presentation of the Cause of God. They should never be led to suppose that they are the central ornaments of the body of the Cause, intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit, and sole promoters of its teachings and principles. They should approach their task with extreme humility, and endeavour by their open-mindedness, their high sense of justice and duty, their candour, their modesty, their entire devotion to the welfare and interests of the friends, the Cause, and humanity, to win not only the confidence and the genuine support and respect of those whom they should serve, but also their esteem and real affection. They must at all times avoid the spirit of exclusiveness, the atmosphere of secrecy, free themselves from a domineering attitude, and banish all forms of prejudice and passion from their deliberations. They should, within the limits of wise discretion, take the friends into their confidence, acquaint them with their plans, share with them their problems and anxieties, and seek their advice and counsel.
(23 February 1924 to the Bah??’?s of America, published in “Bah??’? Administration”, p. 64)

This news is brought to you thanks to the contribution of a fellow Baha’i who shared their concerns with Baha’i Rants anonymously. Similar submissions may be made using the contact form or by sending an email to baquia at bahairants dot com.

The only stipulations are that the information (and/or documents) be verifiably factual and relevant to a Baha’i audience.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VZ2U5ELYEBRSYFVAI2PCUS4RDQ Steve

    I live on the continent of Zealandia – http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/sea-floor-geology/1 – which is mainly underwater. Years ago, my community considered building an underwater temple. Scuba diving is a big tourist drawcard in New Zealand – http://diving.co.nz/ – and the new temple, “Unity in Divers’ City”, would have been a magnificent and prestigious addition to the pantheon of continental Baha’i temples. However, the cost, the poor acoustics and losing an entire choir on their first rehearsal, put us off. We settled for a second-hand temple that was intended for the continent of Antarctica and we haven’t looked back. Check it out!

    http://bahaisonline.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1304&Itemid=2

  • Burns-randy

    I’m betting that those Canadian contributions are cumulative, notice how they go up every year.

    Cheers, Randy

  • Baquia

    Randy, they are not cumulative. They are the numbers for each year as reported to the CRA. You can view the documents yourself on the CRA’s website.

  • http://twitter.com/igneous1 Dan Jensen

    Where do them Canucks get all that spendin change? Dang Commies and their cheap docs. Why don’t they take all that dough an make a giant nine-sided igloo? Now that’s something I would cross the border for!

  • Baquia

    Dan, that’s a brilliant idea. An igloo would be a great inspiration for the future Canadian Baha’i Mashriq site. After all, if the lotus is appropriate for India, what’s more appropriate than an igloo for Canada? perhaps a 9 sided building in the shape of a maple syrup bottle?

    On a more serious note, your comment made me realize that I should have touched on the currency exchange issue. Since the Canadian dollar has had parity now for a while and for the past few years been close to parity with the US dollar, there really isn’t any serious discount that we can apply to the donations they sent Chile’s way (in terms of expressing it in US dollars).

  • Bird

    Bah??’?s by name are not qualified to be accounts. As an institution, especially a non-profit, their accounting should be out source to an outside accounting firm. Keep it pono. I read through your various reference articles on this topic Baquia, you are very in-tune with the vibes and quakes within the community of the BF. Doing the “math”, you always add up. :) How are 2500 enrolled going to pay it’s upkeep? Where the money goes and how it will be maintained is an enigma. From inception the Chilean Temple has been a quagmire.

    I like you Baquia and appreciate your time and attention to this blog. You are a person who will seek the truth as far as it takes you and steps beyond and you allow anyone passage in the journey. Your articles are engaging and insightful; intriguing. How so many of your own and others members predictions came true such as Stephen Birkland on the UHJ, what a scary thought that came true. Now he’s scary. I think I would have been kicked out if I hadn’t left. The BF does not want questioner’s. The AO only wants sheepeoples under Ruhi mind control… I love the freedom of flying outside of the intimacy of this vastly concerning subject. It’s just sad to watch my beloved friends suffer for I know in the hearts of the true is the love of the spiritual message and the healing words needed for this wounded world.

    I shared once your pages keep what little I have left alive in the BF. I hope you are rewarded as equally as I feel being on this blog member list. I think I will concede to an endearment term/label such as “friends” used by Shoghi in your reference above before the [Bah??’?s] was added……
    Bird the ‘friend’ to the ‘friends’ forever…

  • Baquia

    Response and goal set by the NSA of Canada in reply to the UHJ letter above:

    3 December 2010 / 11 Speech 167

    To all Local Spiritual Assemblies, Regional Baha’i Councils and Registered Groups

    Dear Baha’i Friends,

    From the National Assembly’s meeting this weekend, we are delighted to share with you the attached letter of the Universal House of Justice announcing a thrilling development in the construction of the last continental House of Worship in Santiago, Chile.

    Certain of the Canadian community’s longing to play a sacrificial role in completing this project, the National Spiritual Assembly calls the friends to ?join together in earnest supplication? for this endeavour as the Universal House of Justice has asked in its letter. We also summon the friends to contribute no less than US$2 million towards the remaining US$18 million as soon as possible, but to be achieved no later than the mid-point of the next Plan. We are confident that this level of contribution can be sustained without sacrificing contributions to the other funds of the Faith.

    With deepest gratitude, then, and in recognition of Canada’s noble record of contributions of this nature towards Baha’i world undertakings, we will pledge this amount to the Universal House of Justice on Canada’s behalf. May the devoted and diverse efforts of Assemblies, communities and individuals alike, through precious contributions large and small, from those possessed of means and those who are not, win the good-pleasure of Baha’u’llah.

    With loving Baha’i greetings,

    NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLYOF THE BAHA’IS OF CANADA

    Karen McKye, Secretary

    cc: Counsellors A. Boyles, B. Noureddin, D. Scott
    National Spiritual Assembly (8)
    Board of Trustees of the Right of God in Canada
    All Auxiliary Board members
    All national agencies
    All staff

  • Boredrefugee

    Im just curious
    Why is the cost so HIGH???? OMG.
    If the land is bought cheaply, and labour provided free of charge — youth on year of service labourers to architects the cost should be fairly low.

  • Baquia

    Bored, the land isn’t necessarily cheap. It is around 50 hectares just outside of Santiago. That’s 5,381,955 sq. ft. and then you have an incredibly complex and challenging building plus major gardens surrounding it. This isn’t your run of the mill redbrick house. Even if it were, you would need skilled tradesmen (even assuming that local laws allow you to build it with non-union/non-local labor). This requires extremely skilled labor.

    Having said that, the design is what accounts for most of the expense. If the UHJ had chosen a more modest design, it would be much cheaper. But it probably wouldn’t win too many awards either.

    What I’m more concerned with is the opacity that surrounds the project accounting as well as the strange inability to do simple arithmetic (based on information that is available from official sources).

  • Sureshkumaran

    i must say u summed up the perplexcity confronting most who have left.but most who stay i think are those whom what u say,just stubborns them into submission!!
    a very sincere n noble effort though.but dont think its those who left to b blamed or felt sorry for,its those still there i office,whom time will show them thier folly!!

  • DM

    The letter from 2005 costs the whole Project
    The letter from the House of 2010 refers to the cost of the Temple’s Construction
    Perhaps this latter doesn’t include land costs etc. This might explain your apparent missing money.

    David M

  • Baquia

    David, I appreciate the performance of those mental gymnastics. Even if we accept that your assumption is correct – that is, the 2005 cost projections are lower because the land costs were lower – this is not the main issue that is at the heart of this matter.

    The fact still remains that much more than $20 million has been raised. I don’t to repeat myself, so please see the sources and citations above.

  • lae

    This is very interesting. Unfortunately, we won’t ever know what happened since few Bahai’s know about it and the international administrative body has no reason to bring itself to account on this matter. I can think of countless reasons for the descrepancy but none of them reassuring.

  • Baquia

    Iae, you’re right. Usually the only thing that individual Baha’is see is their local and national fund status. A holistic picture of the financial state of the funds or international projects like this are not available. So we usually see just fragments. For example, Baha’is in the US have no idea how much their Canadian neighbors have contributed or how much the Baha’is of Germany have sent for the Chile project. All they know is what they are told about their own goals.

    But hopefully, with the advent of the internet and with the attention of Baha’is like person who initially wrote me to highlight this discrepancy, the institutions will comprehend the necessity of transparency and begin to actually implement the words of Shoghi Effendi quoted above.

  • DM

    I’m simply suggesting there’s no missing money :)
    It requires costs estimates to have gone up over the years.

  • Baquia

    DM, unfortunately you are missing the point. Allow me to try again. You see, the UHJ is saying in their letter that $20 million has been raised and a further $18 million is needed. ok? Still with me? Do you notice that I’m not at all talking about cost estimates or how they’ve changed?

    Again, $20 million has been raised and a further $18 million is needed. Got it?

    ok, now stay with me… hold on tight… here we go…

    According to official records from the NSA of US and Canada, a total of $26.2 million has been raised already for the Chile Temple fund. That is just two countries.

    Got it? ok, now please hang on a little longer, the ride is almost over…

    Now $26.2 is larger than $20 million. I’m horrible at math but that is what my calculator says.

    Now, let’s bring in other countries, other than US and Canada. Let’s say that they’ve raised a total of $X (<– don't let X fool you, it is just a variable).

    So we know that at least $6.2 million MORE has been raised. Possibly much more when we figure in the amount from ALL the other countries where Baha’i communities exist.

    ok… you can let go now… go give those mighty neurons of yours a rest, maybe check out some kittens or something over here.

    You’re earned it buddy!

  • DM

    Baquia, first of all, i would suggest you read your post and look at it in terms of attitude; and secondly, i would suggest you also read my post, and you will see it is you who have not read me, rather than the reverse.
    I suggested that the first message costs the entire project, and the later message asking for further donations, costs the Temple Construction phase of that project.

    Let me spell this out.

    Original Estimate (Entire Project) – $27 m
    US + Canada sends $26 m
    Cost of entire project goes up in terms of USD (the letter of the House mentions changes in materials, changes in design, the inflatory passage of time, and changes in economic conditions; maybe there are other smaller elements unnoted such as contractors, civil politics and civil planning requirements ).
    I will leave you to examine currency exchange rates between the Chilean currency and US Dollar, and also the conversion between Canadian Dollars and US Dollars since I imagine the Canadian submission would need converting. Here is a recent graph of Canadian to US Dollars as an example – http://www.x-rates.com/d/CAD/USD/graph120.html – however you might have already done this or it may be inherent in the figures you quote. But if not, the conversion i imagine is necessary.

    The Project will no doubt be split into several phases to which funds are allocated in terms of their chronology. For example, the land purchase might be one phase, excavation another phase, and construction a third phase. This means that whilst the first phases of the project have all been allocated, the Temple Construction phase (number 3 in my example), not the entire project, has not been fuly allocated and because that phase, perhaps the majority of the project, costs $38m, there is now a shortfall of $18 m.
    So basically in this scenario, the entire project is not $38m, but more, and if ?6m were “missing”, that would mean the entire project might be ?44m.
    Alternatively, if the conversion from Canadian Dollars to USD were needed (since i cannot recall offhand), you might find the project hasn’t been broken into phases.

    At any rate, given your extraordinary attitude – repeated on the only other post i have ever been foolish enough to make here, where (i recall, perhaps imperfectly) you had a post on pollution in Haifa that interested me and i neutrally pointed out a third-party graph of pollution in Haifa that was saying the opposite to your post and asked your opinion – i’m not planning on posting any more, either now or in the future…

    d

  • Oscar Wilde

    “i’m not planning on posting any more, either now or in the future…”

    good.

  • Baquia

    DM, according to the UHJ total project cost: $38 million

    according to the UHJ amount already donated: $20 million
    according to the UHJ amount needed: $18 million

    according to US/Cdn NSA, amount donated already: $26 million

    missing amount: $6 million

    (fx fluctuations are immaterial as Cdn/US dollar is/was near parity)

    amount donated by other countries… unknown but assumed to be more than $1.00

    Conclusion: at least $6 million – and reasonably much more if we include other Baha’i communities – is unaccounted for.

    You’re welcome to do some more mental gymnastics in order to avoid what is staring all of us in the face. It is rather amusing to watch the cognitive dissonance.

  • Peyamb

    In all this talk about missing money (which is important), one missing comment is this: where is the ownership by the locals? THe Bahai community will only be sustainable when the local people do the majority of the work to build and maintain their communities- according to the local culture. Unfortuantely, there is less and less of that as we have the top down approach. I”ve been to a number of latin american countries, I lived in one, I know a friend who’s pioneering parents live in one, and let me tell you, if those pioneers left…. MANY of the communities wouild fall apart. Pioneers (mostly Persian and N.American) should go in, do their thing and leave. If the Chileans could only establish a 9 pointed building that costs $1M, so what? The rest of the Bahai world should help a little, but ultimately THEY must take responsibility. But I guess the strategy that God wants since He supposedly speaking directly to the UHJ is to establish super fancy expensive buildings every few decades. Oh well…

  • curious

    The latest American Baha’i lists total donations to The Chile Temple fund at $14.4 million. That’s another $700,000 on top of the $13.7 mentioned in this article.

  • Anonymous

    curious, yes, as I mentioned, “And if we do add in some figure for the other countries as well as bringing the total up to reflect donations sent after 2009 until the present, then the difference between the two becomes even larger!”

    I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt, as much as possible but if we add in the recent amounts donated since then, the gap grows larger of course.

  • Craig Parke

    The MINOR PLAN of God – The Haifan Baha’i Faith Corporation is all top down. The MAJOR PLAN of God – how the World IS ACTUALLY DEVELOPING hour by hour is all bottom up! Free and open paradigms of science and technology are driving the MAJOR PLAN of God toward free thought and free expression through the software engineering arts and sciences of the Internet enabling intimate completely uncensored bottom up planetary communication between EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH EXCEPT the trembling self censoring Haifan Baha’i Faith Corporation organization corporate members.

    It appears then that the total failure to thrive of the top down MINOR PLAN of God decade after hapless decade of paint-by-numbers failed hapless indoctrination will be the FINAL world wide very useful organizational psychology lesson of the Abrahamic religions. The Chief Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees “organized religion meme” is truly the gift that just keeps on giving for the last 3,000 years of mind bending organizational group think ineptitude and haplessness century after century. It was a religious “organization” that crucified Jesus and persecuted Baha’u’llah. Was. Rinse. Repeat. Why doesn’t anyone seem to get the subtext of the warning message? The collapse of the Haifan Baha’i Faith Corporation will be the final lesson for all the world to see. Systems of top down Clergy can ruin even a one car funeral.

    So the MAJOR PLAN of God will trump all now that the road is wide open with no other effective competition. Every soul trying to advance Baha’u’llah’s Cosmic Encounter with the Zeitgeist must now SWITCH GEARS BIG TIME to the MAJOR PLAN OF GOD if the Teachings are to survive in any form at all. The implementation of the MAJOR PLAN is to get educated and actually GET A REAL JOB actually DOING SOMETHING REAL IN LIFE in life instead of hanging around with theorists whose consciousness begins in mere words and ends in mere words. That is the real lesson of the current debacle of the current mentality of the Haifan Baha’i Faith Corporation. All bets are now off. I can’t wait to get up tomorrow morning and actually DO SOMETHING in life!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkvG9j7g7rg

  • Peyamb

    Why have the funds always been in a crisis mode? Not once in my Bahai life did I go to feast and hear Robert Henderson say “You all have done a great job. We met our goals. So spend the rest on your local communities. Cheers!” Geeeez!!!

  • Anonymous

    I also wonder about this. For some reason this has become a part of Baha’i administrative culture. It pervades all communities that I’ve lived in across continents. Like you, I’d love to know what is at the root of this. Perhaps someone thought that the urgency of crisis is what is needed to motivate people?

    There is one case which I remember vividly a few years back now. There was a really big ‘hole’ in the NSA’s budget, something a little over a million dollars. When the community heard the clarion call they responded but also a very wealthy individual donated a HUGE chunk. All in all, the ‘deficit’ was gone – and then some.

    For about 3 months. Then it was back to crisis mode. I remember people at the feast looking at each other through the corners of their eyes to check if anyone else was thinking the same thing they were… it was surreal.

    Then there’s the case of the Canadian NSA which has built a warchest of funds throughout the years… all the while telling the members that things are dire and basically the NSA is in constant threat of bankruptcy or something… I should really cover this in more depth to show you what I mean.

  • Peyamb

    Well what bothers me is the idea of sustainability. I mean seriously. We are supposedly building God’s salvation on earth. A system of order that people will eventually emulate when the old world order is supposed to break down. How is this New World Order any better than the old if it can’t balance its books and live within its means?

  • sheids

    I think maybe you’re displaying a bit of attitude – just a thought.
    Baquia makes a good point in the post, 6 million is a lot of money and the bottom line is there should be more transparency as it relates to Baha’i accounts. Baha’is are too trusting of their institutions, but people mismanage and people steal. NSA’s in Italy and Malaysia have been rocked by scandal of NSA members stealing funds for years. Transperency is what is needed, then no one will question

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