Chikomeni, a 10-member cooperative received over K2.7 million (K2, 777,402), funds for a community-driven empowerment eco-tourism project to help support efforts by local communities to protect the environment and adapt to climate change.

Community resource boards are important for the coordination and distribution of wildlife resources in Game Management Areas.

The Chikomeni project joins a growing list of projects under the World Bank-supported Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Project (ZIFLP) that have stalled. 

In January this year, the provincial administration in Eastern Province suspended assistant secretary, Dr Royd Tembo and five procurement officers to allow for investigations in the irregular procurement of works for the nine houses and three gates in Lukusuzi under ZIFLP.

Although no evidence of theft or corruption, the project opens the door to speculation that part of the funds may have ended up in a few people’s hands.

MakanDay Centre for Investigative Journalism has seen the Bill of Quantity (BOQ) which shows the Chikomeni project involves building of 10 chalets, five of which are double and five singles.

It also includes the main building which will accommodate a conference room, kitchen, offices and four other guest rooms. Other facilities to be put up at the site are water pump, swimming pool, bar and a restaurant.

MakanDay has been to the site and established that the main building is at window level and only five double chalets have been built to the roof level, despite 75 per cent of the funds being released.

Chikomeni treasurer, Catherine Mwale said the budget was underestimated and that prices of building materials have been affected by inflation due to passage of time.

She gave an example of cement which was budgeted at K75 in the BOQ when the actual price is now at K150.

She admitted that the remaining 25 per cent of the money is not enough to complete the project, adding that they have applied for more funds from ZIFLP.

“We were only given 75 percent of the money and that is what we used to construct five chalets and the main building which is at window level,” she said.

She revealed that auditors recommended that the main building be abandoned for the five chalets to be completed.

She said they are waiting for engineers from Lusaka to determine the total work remaining and the amount of money needed to finish the project.

Lumezi District Commissioner Jimmy Phiri said he is aware of the challenges facing the Chikomeni project.

“We’re still waiting for the report from the auditors so that the remaining 25 percent when it is released, the group can continue with the project,” said Mr Phiri.

He said that he could not tell if project funds were prudently used or misapplied as alleged by some community members until the audit report is out.

But one of the members who asked for anonymity told MakanDay that only leaders have full information of how the project money is being spent.

“There is no time when the committee called all members to tell us how the money has been used, I’m not even aware that auditors came to audit the group, nobody told me about it,” he said.  

Chairperson Clara Mwale declined to comment when she was approached by MakanDay.

“I am not comfortable talking to you about the project because I have never dealt with the media,” she said.

A local organisation, Citizen’s Voice and Advocate (CVA) Chikomeni zone vice chairperson, Simon Nyirenda said that the project was an opportunity for the local people to get employed.