ACCOMPONG maroons are angry with both the Ministry of Youth and Culture and the Jamaica 50 Secretariat over the treatment of their community in the programming of the current Independence anniversary celebrations.
"We were the first freedom fighters in this country, and we feel we should be a part of the celebration," Colonel Fearon Williams told the Jamaica Observer.
"We pride ourselves for being foremost in the vanguard of fighting for nationhood. We were before Paul Bogle and William Gordon. We fought for close to 80 years and we ended up with a peace treaty which has been in effect for over 275 years. We deserve to be treated much better than this," Colonel Williams fumed.
According to Williams, instead of looking forward to sharing in the celebration of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, Accompong is currently grappling with a debt of over $1 million it incurred on sprucing up the community for this year's celebrations, which should have included the January 6 anniversary of the 1738 signing of a peace treaty with the British.
"The previous Government had invited us to participate and we agreed with them that our peace treaty anniversary this year would have been a Jamaica 50 event. They promised to assist us with the repairs to the roads leading into Accompong, through places like Whitehall and Harmony Hall," he explained.
"Those are not our roads, but we felt that we should fix them so that people could drive into the community easily. So we got a loan and did the repairs, based on our discussions with the former minister and the commitment that we would have been reimbursed for the repairs. We spent approximately $1.1 million on the repairs and now we are being told that it's not the ministry's responsibility and there is no money to pay us back," Williams pointed out.
He said, too, that there is an outstanding debt of $250,000 owed to the police for providing security for the January 6 event.
Accompong relies mainly on the profit from the treaty anniversary event to finance its budget, which is nothing near its current debt.
He said that the only contribution the community received towards the celebration of the peace treaty on January 6 "was some bottled water from Wisynco and nine sanitary conveniences; nothing else".
He added: "Our thinking is that we were not dealing with the JLP or the PNP. We were dealing with the Government of Jamaica, so once we got the word to go ahead, we expected it to be honoured."
Accompong maroons usually travel to Seville to perform at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust's Emancipation Jubilee on July 31, but Colonel Williams said that their participation this year is doubtful.
He admitted that they had given the ministry an assurance, but since their request for $50,000 to finance the transportation and meals for the 20 persons involved was rejected as being too high, they have changed their minds.
The influential former colonel for Accompong, Meredith Rowe, agreed with the sentiments expressed by Colonel Williams.
He said the community has not been invited to the Grand Gala at the National Stadium, nor have other maroon communities at Charles Town and Moore Town in Portland.
"I have been told that they are saying that maroons will be in attendance (at the Grand Gala). I wonder which maroons; not from Jamaica," he commented.
In the meantime, he said the use of the maroons' national symbol, the abeng, at events outside the communities is illegal without their permission.
"We don't use our abeng for any and everything. The abeng is our national symbol and we've always objected when political parties use it. We recognise the importance of the Grand Gala, but they must recognise that it is our symbol and they should request our permission to use it," Rowe said.
"We are prepared to give full credence to Jamaica 50, and we wanted to stage our own event. We made a request to the former minister, but we had to resubmit it to the present minister, and we have been trying to get a response without any success. We are concerned about the way we are being treated, and this sentiment is shared by other maroon communities," he added.
Responding to the charges made by the Accompong maroon leaders, director of culture in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, Sydney Bartley, said that he was surprised at the statements, because he was not aware of any complaints from the maroon community.
"I've not had any discussion with the maroons that speaks to them being disgruntled. We've never had any negative or disgruntled situations," he said.
The maroon leaders, however, say that is because they cannot get in touch with anyone at the ministry via telephone or e-mail.
However, Bartley admitted that the ministry has refused to reimburse the community for the road repairs.
"They wanted to fix the roads. I tried to get the St Elizabeth Parish Council to do it, but the council said it did not have the money. They went ahead and did what they wanted to do," Bartley responded.
He said that he was unaware that the previous minister had given the community any undertaking to reimburse the cost of the repairs.
However, the former minister of culture, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, in a response to the Observer, said that she did give the Accompong colonel the undertaking at a meeting attended by representatives of the Jamaica 50 Secretariat and Bartley.
She said that the colonel was instructed to prepare an estimate for the road repairs, as well as the budgeting for lighting, sound and security for January 6, for which he would have been reimbursed when the funds for Jamaica 50 were budgeted.