Renovation of the Shrine of the Bab Complete

The comprehensive restoration work of the Shrine of the Bab has been finished ahead of schedule. The total cost of the project was $6 million USD.

You can view pictures of the ongoing restoration of the Shrine here as well as a slideshow of the original building construction.

The restoration was cosmetic as well as structural. The structural additions reinforced the structure from top to bottom to be able to withstand an earthquake. The cosmetic changes were myriad. The most visible change was the installation of new tiles atop the famous golden dome of the building.

As with the other buildings on Mount Carmel, the harsh Haifa air, heavily laden with corrosive salt and other chemicals from the refinery and industrial complexes in the Haifa bay area had damaged the golden glazing of the tiles at the top of the Shrine.

The official press release from the Baha’i News Service includes this about the cause of the restoration:

More than 50 years of exposure to Haifa’s climate and environmental conditions had taken their toll on the superstructure’s stonework and dome…

According to Mr. Saeid Samadi, the architect and project leader based out of California, the new gold glazed tiles sourced from Portugal are manufactured to be able to withstand the harsh conditions of the Haifa bay. His estimation is that they will last from 200 to 300 years.

Below is a slideshow of the unveiling and the newly restored building:

As well as being a holy site for Baha’is, the Shrine of the Bab is a major tourist attraction and a designated world heritage site by UNESCO.

Renovation of National Baha’i Center in Suriname

The National Baha’i Center in Suriname requires renovation and the Universal House of Justice has assigned the task of raising the necessary funds (€13,000 or appx. $18,000 Canadian dollars) to two National Spiritual Assemblies: Netherlands and Canada.

The choice of the Netherlands is understandable considering that Suriname was claimed as a colony by the Dutch in 1667 and only gained its independence on November 25 1975. Dutch is still their official language.

The choice of Canada however is puzzling. There is no connection between the two countries other than Canada being a wealthier nation that can afford to support the renovation effort.

But if that is the only criteria that makes sense, the Universal House of Justice could have easily asked any number of countries that are wealthy to send them the funds. Why not the US? Japan? Germany?

Bahai Center in Paramaribo Suriname

Suriname is a tiny country (the smallest in South America) with less than half a million citizens which live mostly in Paramaribo – the capital city along the North coast.

It would even make more sense to ask a country in the same continent. For example, Brazil or Venezuela. Or Chile (oh, right, they’re kind of busy with their own project).

Perhaps the Universal House of Justice is keeping close tabs on the financial state of the Baha’i community in Canada and knows they can easily afford it.

For more information, here is the website of the Baha’i community of Suriname.

Canadian NSA Ignores Surplus, Issues Fund Appeal

Well that didn’t take too long.

The Canadian National Spiritual Assembly’s Treasurer, Mr. Enayat Rawhani, issued this letter recently:

At its recent meeting, the National Spiritual Assembly reviewed the financial position of the Canadian community as part of the formulation of a budget that would provide for activities related to the first year of the new Five Year Plan. A thrilling picture of Canada’s contribution to the growth of the Faith emerged from our review. At the same time, we noted with growing concern that the needs have substantially exceeded the flow of contributions to the national fund. Over the last few months, therefore, the National Assembly has drawn from funds set aside from bequests and endowments so that commitments to other funds of the Cause and the movement of the Plan in Canada may not be impeded. Examples include increased contributions to the House of Worship in Chile, an historic restoration of the Shrine in Montreal in preparation for the centenary of the visit of �Abdu’l-Baha, the winning of Canada’s international pioneer goals through the settlement of a large number of pioneers, international collaborative projects in Congo and Burkina, and of course, the personnel and operational costs of the processes of growth throughout the country.

Contributions to the fund fluctuate throughout the year, but by the end of March, the Assembly can usually foresee whether the contributions will meet the year’s needs. This year, contributions as of the end of March had reached $4,000,000, an amount which fell $700,000 short of the year-to-date expenditure budget. This gap moved us to immediately share the state of affairs with you, calling for a supreme effort to remedy this condition and in fact, welcome the new Plan at Ridvan with a surplus.

You can read the Treasurer’s full letter here. Interestingly enough, Rawhani is one of the longest serving members of the NSA with more than 16 years of continuous incumbency under his belt. But only the two most recent have seen him serve as Treasurer for the national body.

Most Baha’is will find nothing in the above letter surprising or out of the ordinary. After all, we are all used to receiving such exhortations about the fund. They are usually delivered with a breathless tone of impending doom and gloom. If we don’t immediately give sacrificially, who knows what will happen!

So why do I say, “well that didn’t take long?”. Because we just reviewed the financial situation of the Baha’i community. Based on the NSA’s own disclosure to the Canadian tax authorities, we know that the Canadian Baha’i community is doing very well financially. This is a chart that I shared with you already:

NSA Canada assets chart

Total liquid assets have been growing consistently and the NSA now has more than $32.5 million. If we count non-liquid assets such as land and buildings, then it is more than that by a few million.

In fact, just a few days ago, I wrote this:

I hope that with this warchest, the NSA doesn’t resort to the past manufactured financial crisis situations to motivate Baha’is to donate.

From the NSA’s own disclosures to the CRA, here is a concise summary of their annual financial status going back to 1996:

YearTotal IncomeTotal DisbursementsSurplus/(Deficit)
1996$10,128,341$10,374,676($246,335)
1997$9,678,961$7,864,324$1,814,637
1998$7,937,466$7,485,086$452,380
1999$9,631,089$9,090,259$540,830
2000$11,635,916$8,052,783$3,583,133
2001$10,059,902$7,646,536$2,413,366
2002$17,462,503$11,057,848$6,404,655
2003$9,707,904$9,603,921$103,983
2004$11,910,620$9,603,921$2,306,699
2005$10,804,786$8,877,218$1,927,568
2006$13,698,757$12,760,130$938,627
2007$18,984,048$16,177,993$2,806,055
2008$16,277,836$7,953,414$8,324,422
2009$14,389,555$19,888,513($5,498,958)
2010$14,980,518$12,178,743$2,801,775

The NSA has consistently banked surplus after surplus, year after year. The cumulative net surplus over this time period is $28.7 million which would account for almost all the accumulated liquid assets that the NSA has at this point.

The only time there was a large deficit was in 2009 when they decided to contribute $12.5 million to the Chile Temple project. This created a $5.5 million deficit. Without this there would have been a surplus of $7.5 million. This donation to the Chile project provided another interesting discrepancy that is yet to be explained.

There is just one month remaining in the Baha’i fiscal year so the above letter can be seen as a ‘Hail Mary’ to try to get Baha’is to donate within this window of opportunity to prevent a $700,000 deficit. What I balk at here is not the letter itself in isolation. But that it is merely one among many similar letters that present a completely different picture and tone to that which the NSA itself reports to the Canadian government. We’ve seen many similar letters sent to the community during previous years when the fund ultimately presented a surplus.

I balk at the selective disclosure that the NSA engages in to reinforce informational asymmetry within the Baha’i community. They have never disclosed the full financial situation. They have never reported the true financial status of the community to the members of the community. They never report the balance sheet which would then show the massive and growing assets, both liquid and capital of the NSA. They never report the full income statement nor explain what exactly they are doing with the funds or how they are making decisions about them.

The pattern of behavior exhibited by the NSA is one of extremely limited disclosure coupled with intermittent jeremiads, like the one above, bemoaning the state of the fund and asking for further donations to avert a crisis. I find this wholly contemptible.

NSA of Canada Funds Report for 2010

Happy Naw-Ruz everyone! I hope the new year brings with it joy and success to you all.

At Baha’i Rants, with Naw-Ruz comes the ritual reading of the Canadian funds report as submitted to the Canadian Revenue Agency by the NSA of Canada. Thanks to this government mandated disclosure, Baha’is get a glimpse into the financial workings of their community. Sadly, this is something that would not be possible otherwise since the NSA believes that opacity takes precedence over transparency and have not to this date shared such information with the community at large voluntarily or supplemented the government mandated disclosure with any further information or explanations.

As with last year’s exercise, this one leaves much to be desired. It isn’t difficult to find errors and strange things in the T3010 forms. I encourage you to go to the source and see for yourself at the CRA website.

Revenues
Just as last year, the total revenue reported by the NSA (or whoever filled out the T3010 on behalf of the NSA) is incorrect. The total revenue line is quite simple to calculate, if you know how to add and read at a rudimentary level.

As the form helpfully says: “Total revenue (add line 4500, 4510 to 4580, and 4600 to 4650)”. If we do so, following that guidance diligently, the amount is $13,539,028. However, the amount reported by the NSA is $14,980,518.

A significant discrepancy of $1,441,490.

(Statement of Operations)
Revenue:
T3010 Line #Total ($)
Total eligible amount of all gifts for which the charity issued tax receipts4500$7,246,278
Total amount received from other registered charities (excluding specified gifts and enduring property)4510$4,053,205
Total specified gifts from other registered charities 4520
Total other gifts received for which a tax receipt was not issued by the charity4530$1,312,236
Total interest and investment income received or earned4580$2,196,128
Gross proceeds from disposition of assets4590
Net proceeds from disposition of assets (show a negative amount with brackets)4600
Gross income received from rental of land and/or buildings4610$129,254
Other revenue not already included in the amounts above4650$43,417
Total revenue (add line 4500, 4510 to 4580, and 4600 to 4650)4700$14,980,518

Simple arithmetic 2, Treasury Department of the NSA 0. The brutal battle royale continues. Perhaps we should buy the NSA a calculator? or an abacus at least. That should even the odds a bit.

What could possibly explain the $1.4 million discrepancy? I don’t really know but it may have something to do with the $2 million interest and investment income.

I suspect that this amount is also incorrect and that it has lead to the incorrect total revenue amount being reported. By itself it seems beyond belief for three simple and logical reasons. First, we are in a low interest rate environment. Second, I don’t believe that the NSA would jeopardize the funds of the Faith by exposing them to high risk, and therefore, seeking a high return. Third, the total portfolio amount reported is not large enough to provide for such a yield.

Finally, if we are to argue that the $2 million in interest and income derived from investments is a reasonable amount, then we must explain how the NSA’s portfolio did not earn an amount even approaching that sum the previous year.

Last year the NSA reported just $83,700 for the line 4580 “Total interest and investment income received or earned”. So obviously something is amiss.

It would make sense if the $2 million were to be instead disposition of assets. Or a combination of interest and income earned as well as disposition of assets.

Apart from such odd discrepancies, the pattern of donations seems to be holding steady from last year and increasing from prior years.

Assets and Liabilities
The assets of the Baha’i community of Canada have been steadily increasing over the years. In 1996 the liquid assets (excluding capital assets like buildings) were a little over $5 million. In 2010 they were more than $32.5 million.

NSA Canada assets chart

There was an uncharacteristic decrease in 2004 but once again, I suspect that this is due to an error. Prior to 2004 the NSA had been reporting $12-13 million in “Other Investments” but in 2004 they suddenly reported zero and continued to do so until 2009 when they suddenly reported $4.35 million.

The other interesting thing is that the NSA is reporting $5.2 million in liabilities in 2010. This is the most debt the NSA has reported for more than 15 years. It is probably a mortgage debt related to one or more properties.

I hope that with this warchest, the NSA doesn’t resort to the past manufactured financial crisis situations to motivate Baha’is to donate. Cash or cash equivalents are at $27 million, receivables at more than $1 million and investments at $4.35 million. This year there was a surplus of $2.8 million.

The key question is what is the NSA planning to do with this much money? As the amount grows, so does my concern. This large amount of money coupled with limited or non-existent controls, oversight and disclosure provides for a fertile environment for nasty things to happen. We’ve already seen a financial scandal in Italy. I don’t want to see one in Canada.

As the total amount grows, so does the potential for theft and fraud. As does the challenge of managing the money and providing proper stewardship. Unfortunately, we have no information about who is managing this portfolio for the NSA nor how they are doing so.

Commensurate with the large amounts in question is the imperative for the NSA to give proper account of what exactly its intentions are for the funds and how they are managing them.

The Restoration of the Shrine of the Bab

For some time now the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel has been covered in scaffolding and a cover as it undergoes restoration. The work is extensive. The biggest and most visible component is replacing the golden tiles that served as the roof of the superstructure.

But much more is being done. Almost every facet of the building, facade and details are being restored. As well, structural engineer have buttressed the foundation and skeleton to make it earthquake proof.

It was not too long ago that the Archives building was completely restored. The facade of that building had eroded very badly due to the air pollution. Haifa, being an industrial and port city, has corrosive chemicals as well as salt from the sea. Make no mistake, Baha’is pay a very high price for the beautiful buildings and gardens on Mt. Carmel. And we can look forward to ongoing restoration as the expensive but soft marble gets damaged again and again.

The first shows the original building of the shrine with some of the prominent persons responsible for its design and construction:

The second slideshow features some pictures of the current restoration work: