Moore Town Maroon colonel shrugs off dictator label
Wallace Sterling vows to continue the progress in Portland villages
Moore Town Maroon Colonel Wallace Sterling says work is currently being done at a spring in Seaman’s Valley, that will ensure that residents benefit from a constant supply of water. (Photo: Everard Owen)

FOR the last 27 years Moore Town Maroon Colonel Wallace Sterling has held this position. But Sterling said his almost three decades of leadership was never intended, far from a dictatorship, and has brought forward uncountable positive changes for the community.

In fact, Sterling said the work continues up to this day. The Jamaica Observer caught up with the colonel for an interview last Tuesday, deep within the hills of Seaman’s Valley — an over 40-minute walk from Moore Town, Portland.

He and workers were updating pipes as part of a “communal water system” which is intended to provide residents with an uninterrupted supply of water.

“When someone says the community needs upliftment, I wonder what they are really talking about. If I compare and contrast what we have done now to what the previous Administration had done, we would’ve doubled them up by leaps and bounds,” Sterling told the Sunday Observer.

Sterling further refuted claims that he has led as a dictator and is unreceptive to feedback.

“Rubbish. Nonsense,” he stated, categorically. “To say that I’m a dictator, I mean, I would be a good dictator. I have gotten things done and people have worked, and we have gotten things done.

“Anybody, any day of the week, can approach me and can talk to me. Persons who do not approach me and talk to me are persons who, by design and by their own desire, do not want to because they want to make some unnecessary complaint. Anybody in the community who says they cannot reach me and cannot approach me, I am categorically saying that they are lying.

“They cannot, in all fairness and all honesty, describe me in that light and think that they are telling the truth. There is no truth to that. Absolutely none. If I am going to church you can stop me; if I am at home you can come to me; if I am at a public meeting, you can find me. When people want a document to be signed, they call me at any hour and say ‘Colonel, I need this to be done.’ I write recommendations and leave it and tell people to pick it up.”

He added: “It was never my plan to be colonel for so long; when I became colonel I didn’t even think I would be colonel for three years. But when you’re in and you have work to do, you work.”

Sterling pointed to “tangible” improvements that suggest the community is on an upward trajectory.

“The road from the junction up into the square is slated to be refurbished. That’s like a $24-million project through the Member of Parliament and other Government agencies. So, we are going to be doing that. Many times roads get blocked and we [work] with the Government to get the road fixed, all the way from Port Antonio into Moore Town,” he disclosed.

In 2015 the Blue and John Crow Mountains were declared as a world heritage site. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says, “The Blue and John Crow Mountains overlaps with one of the world’s most irreplaceable protected areas, based on its importance for amphibian, bird and mammal species. The property hosts globally significant populations of bird species and represents a key part of the Jamaican Endemic Bird Area.”

Sterling added: “We are grateful for that. Those are tangible things. We worked closely with Government because we by ourselves couldn’t have gotten it done, and the Government itself couldn’t have gotten it done.”

He also highlighted an incomplete playing field that serves as a recreational space for youngsters.

“It’s maybe about 80 per cent complete but they are still enjoying it. We have also brought into the community machines that we use to print T-shirts. These T-shirts are all about us as a people — it doesn’t have anything to do with people on the outside. We refurbished the clinic; we have brand new basic schools in all of the communities, funded by JSIF [Jamaica Social Investment Fund].

“I don’t know if I can go down the list of all the things that we have done over the years. Many things have been done. We do agroforestry, reforestation, we build chicken coops with farmers [so they can] can raise chickens… we have done quite a bit of things and we have not stopped. We are doing what we are doing,” he said.

Sterling told the Sunday Observer that the council has also applied to the JSIF again for funding to set up a traditional Maroon village.

“Many times, people come to the community and they think that more things could be done, and they want to see the community as it was 250 years ago. But we can’t tell ourselves that we have to lock ourselves in some sort of time capsule. We have to move. We have the space so we are going to create this village so when visitors come, they can stay and enjoy themselves. It will be good for the community itself,” he explained.

Sometimes, Sterling added, the people calling for more to be done haven’t done anything themselves to contribute to community development.

“Sometimes, it is not necessarily about leadership; sometimes the problem is with ‘followship’ too. Right now we are doing a project like this [communal water system] and it is for the improvement of everybody, so why aren’t more persons here contributing? They take water for a social commodity and believe somebody must bring it to them,” he lamented.

“They pay $250 per month for water. We don’t complain, but no matter what you do, people are going to say more could be done and more should be done. We did a lot. It’s just a way of life. If we bring the thing to you, you have to make sure you take care of what you got.”

Sterling explained that the communal water system is a concentrated effort to have Moore Town supplied with water from a spring in Seaman’s Valley. While it isn’t completed, he said individuals have had piped water in their homes, as opposed to years ago when they depended on outdoor standpipes.

“We got some funding in early 2000 from Horizon Foundation and we procured four-inch pressure pipes, and then we got some additional funding. We combined both fundings and then we run this brand new four-inch pipeline all the way down the road, and up to Moore Town. So, we have two pipelines coming from this system — the three-inch and the four-inch.

“And now, JSIF is spending some amount of money to let us get water in all of the surrounding communities. We have been working for the longest while and we have done a lot of work. It will guarantee a constant supply of water.”

He told the Sunday Observer that the distance which they have to travel to Seaman’s Valley with materials has hindered completion.

“If we had all the materials up here we would have completed it already. Every time you get somebody to carry the materials, there is another issue here and there. But, we finally got some guys who seem to be serious about what they are doing so we are looking at the end of this month, the latest,” he said.

Further, Sterling said there is more to come for Moore Town, including a proposed chips factory.

“This is very important for us. It’s where we can make banana chips, plantain chips, dasheen chips, cassava chips, breadfruit chips — everything,” he stated, noting that there will also be a focus on producing juice.

“The vast amount of apples that grow in the place go to waste every year; more than 99 per cent of them go to waste. Even guava. So, there are things here that we can do. People need to know that they too can fall in and do what has to be done. If it is that just the leadership is going to do something without the followship doing anything, we aren’t going to get anywhere.”

Sterling refutes claims being made that he has been functioning like a dictator. (Photo: Romardo Lyons)
Sterling says he never intended to be colonel for almost three decades, but says there is more work to be done. (Photo: Everard Owen)
Romardo Lyons

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