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:
Iâ€™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??â€™? 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 â€?lionâ€™s shareâ€? of the $27 million projected cost of the last of the continental Mashriquâ€™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 â€?in honorâ€? 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.
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