Liberia: VP Jewel Howard Taylor: ‘I Am Definitely Not A Race Car Parked In A Garage; In Fact . . . (FULL INTERVIEW)
MONROVIA – Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor celebrated her 57th birth anniversary last Friday, January 17, 2020, aptly coming two years into Coalition for Democratic Change-led government. For the former first-lady, turned Senator for vote-rich Bong and now the next in line of succession to the Liberian presidency, the past two years has been nothing short of a nightmare, one she readily acknowledges in this exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica has been a somewhat bittersweet one. VP Howard Taylor, also addresses lingering controversy surrounding simmering strains between she and President George Manneh Weah, the saga over the lack of operations budget allocation for her office, speculations regarding a purported plan for her to resign her post and going at odds with the President’s inner circle and what it means for the fulfillment of the ruling coalition’s Pro-Poor Agenda.
Interview with Rodney D. Sieh, Editor-in-Chief, FrontPage Africa, [email protected]
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Madam Vice President, Happy New Year and Happy belated Birthday. As you celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, how do you feel today?
VP JEWEL HOWARD TAYLOR: I remain grateful to the Almighty God; for his manifold blessings, favor and grace upon my life; and for especially allowing me to see this day. It’s customary that family members, friends and loved ones would call to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY. And those words had a bittersweet taste for me this time around.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Can I ask you Why?
VP JHT: Because I was in a reflective mood; as I considered the state of my beloved Liberia; coupled with my current physical condition. Liberia, because of the overwhelming support given to the WEAH-TAYLOR Team in 2017; and the fact that two years on, the spotlight on Liberia continues to show a Nation in crisis than the calm environment needed to show a Nation out of transition; on the way to deepening democracy and development. And personally reflective, as I had hoped to use my position to be an agent of positive impact.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Madam VP, it’s been two years now since you’ve been in this position. A lot has been said in the public domain about what you are going through. For the sake of the country, could you tell us some of the complications and difficulties of the job?
VP JHT: It is expected that all positions across the governance spectrum comes with challenges; and all leaders know that there will be complications, difficulties, failures and setbacks. But these bottlenecks define the leaders from followers. The arrangements embarked upon by all of us were done with this in mind. What I hoped for was that the challenges would be mostly external – as an environment in which we would adopt to, in order to change the national dynamics for the better. But that the internal challenges, though expected, would be easier to manage as it would be amongst ourselves which we would do ALL within our powers to minimize. So, that all of our collective energies could be spent in making Liberia better for our People.
As an experienced Politician I was prepared to work in this environment; especially if given the basic support needed for a functioning office. And as a Lawyer, I am cognizant of the constitutional and administrative roles ascribed to the Vice President.
I believe the real challenges come from two fronts – firstly, I am the first female Vice President, who also happens to be a gender activist of more than 14 years. It is, therefore, the expectation of the general population, especially the females; that I would be a voice, point of reference and a contributor in cash and kind to relevant activities.
To remain true to these expectations, I would need certain capacities (both from personal and special project funds) to perform this role. My second challenge has come from expectations that both sources of funding referenced would be harnessed.
If one source is not received, my commitments fall below expectations. Sadly, over the past two years, the budgetary allocation for office operations (to include funds for special projects) has not been paid to my office. This has hampered my ability to positively impact and contribute to the Liberian Women’s agenda; a commitment made by our Government generally and by me, specifically. This inability to remain thus engaged, as one of Liberia’s female Leaders, has grieved me greatly. So, though the operational payment for my office deals with items needed to make my office functional….it also includes funds allocated for women empowerment and scholarships for girls’ education.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Prior to your ascendancy and during 2017 presidential elections you remarked that you will not be a parked car in the garage in an apparent reference to your predecessor, Ambassador Joe Boakai. Looking back, do you have any regrets about making that statement? Has it come back to haunt you?
VP JHT: The truth is that the statement was made by the then Ambassador George Weah on the campaign trail. I was subsequently asked about it, and reiterated that I would not be a – parked race car in a garage. I had no regrets then and have none now. Thankfully, over the past two years, I have been actively involved in many state activities, including women’s empowerment initiatives. So, I am definitely not a race car parked in a garage. In fact, I am not parked at all. Though I may not be running up to my highest speed, but I am on the road and intend to continue to be so, by the special grace of God.
To feel haunted by those words, is to have given up and thrown in the towel. For those who know me will say in a heartbeat – She is not a quitter. As long as I have life and breath and opportunities to continue to be a change agent – I WILL REMAIN SO. But I will say Ambassador Boakai is an astute statesman and I’m grateful for his contributions to our nation. I want to say if I, in any way, indicated in a negative way that my thoughts meant that we would come to government and ravage it and misuse our opportunities, it was not what I meant. And I know some people took it to that level. That was not my intention, then it was not my intention now.
The CDC is a conglomeration of many political parties, because there were three main parties. By the time we got to the second round, a lot of parties joined in an attempt for the opposition block to get back into the governance space and opportunities were made available at different levels and the government started to come together.
As we campaigned across our country in 2017, what we saw was a nation in great anticipation of a team of persons that who would take them to the next level, more equality, more united that would provide an environment where, regardless of who you were, at whatever level, you had an opportunity to live and be a part of the building of our country.
Some are prepared to be ministers; some are prepared to be local government officials. Some are prepared to just be interpreters. So, our thought was to give different levels of people what they needed, not as CDC, but as Liberia, because, again, we should be one people united together.
And so those comments were made. But I knew as we went forward, we should have been looking for the best. But I can just imagine a president walking into office and being bombarded with all of these issues. LPDP wanted jobs, PDP wanted jobs. There was a level of stability that was needed to take the country to a soft period. And I know some of us complain about the fact that the Unity Party ministers – a lot of them still remained in their post today.
Whatever the many, many, many arrangements that were made, because when you in this process, I realized at the head of such an organization, there were many things happening underneath all of us, we’re not privy to all of it.
This is what the leader does, he negotiates at different levels to make sure that we arrive at the point that we had.
If you were to ask me what my assessment of government would be.
I will say firstly, that in a mix, as I’ve just explained, you will find good, you will find bad, you’ll find ugly, you’ll find beautiful people. But this is how God has made us all of us come to the table with something. Some people have the potential to learn.
Others are stuck where they are. It now takes all of the players to look carefully and see what can be done. So, that in the end, it’s not just about the few jobs in government, but a whole system that can now provide opportunities for all.
There are petty traders in Duala who only wanted soft loans to build better and bigger businesses, that petty trader in Duala or Red-Light Market or in Gbarnga or in Grand Kru County doesn’t want to be a minister but if given more support, he can do more.
How the entire arrangement ended up, I guess in the hope of the President, and with the acquiescence of the Liberian Senate, which is also supposed to vet everyone, the players got into place. It would be disingenuous of me, Rodney, if I sit here and say, well, this person should not have been hired, and that person should not have been hired.
In my office, there are many persons, even some Unity Party Partisans – and everybody isn’t at the same level. But we found a way to be able to work together.
What I hope all of us would take to our jobs is our commitment to do the right things, is our commitment to exhibit integrity, is our commitment to look at Liberia first, so that whatever you do, knowing that it will affect everyone in the nation, we put our best foot forward.
Are there mistakes? Yes. Even after 12 years, I believe if you were to ask Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, looking back, she will tell you okay, I made a mistake here and I made a mistake there.
In the tribal vernacular, there’s a parable that says, the one who was at the front cutting the road into the bush or wherever, on the farm, thinks he is going straight, because he sees only what’s in front of him. It takes someone at the back to say, No, you’re going too far left, or you’re going too far right or just going straight. So, all of the eyes have to be on the table. And that’s why I believe the constitution set it up the way it did.
Those who were given the opportunity to work, I think must be assessed at that level.
If you were to ask me to go and be the Minister of Health, I will immediately say no, I’m not a healthcare professional by heart. When I’m sick, I can’t even take care of myself.
So, I know it’s not something I like. It’s not something I want to do. So, if such an opportunity were provided in good faith, I should be able to say no, I don’t think I can do this job. But I can do that, so, that people are not just running because they think there are opportunities at certain levels.
But once you get settled and people accept the nominations, and they go to the process, then we all must be gauged according to what we have done in the first instance.
The new laws, international laws now require that someone cannot be held liable for the actions of others, and that each person must be responsible for what they have done.
Have we made some mistakes? Yes, we have. Have we the opportunity to correct them? Yes, we do.
Fortunately, any new government has a two-year grace period to step in, not in your second tenure but in your first because they realized that there will be some extra ordinary things or promises that were made, that someone might need to fulfill.
And so, in the first year or two, there will be some real false, up and down. I think in year three going forward, whatever the shortfalls and the glitches are, must now be corrected. So that we put the President’s agenda that he brought to the nation on the table, and that all of us can work to make it happen.
If you were to ask me what my perception of government’s performance would be, I would say we have some high points. And some of the high points are, for example, the Public Works agenda for routes.
There are many roads, not just in Monrovia but outside of Monrovia, which was our focus as we traveled during the campaign, and got stuck in many places.
Our commitment to those especially from the Southeast was we’ll do our best to have their roads paved.
There are now segments of paved roads across the country, other segments are about to be connected like the Robertsfield Highway.
That’s a sore eye for anyone coming to our country, so that is about to start. And that’s a very high point. The low points could be economic stability and new job creations – because it was never expected that we will overflood the government because there should be a ceiling on how many people can work in a place. But again, you must look at the fact that people have been out of work for so many years.
The tendency of anyone, whether you’re a good father or bad father, would be to let’s see how we can set up people will work out the details. So that’s our low point. I believe that the beginning of the third year that we’re commencing, an assessment now needs to be done, where we can look at the figures, look at where we are in our Pro Poor Agenda and now begin to work on what needs to be done to put people where they can bring their best to the table.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The issue of jobs has been a topical discussion during the past two years. You caused a lot of stir during the early days when you suggested that joining the CDC was the best Avenue for anyone looking to get a government post. The returns on that has not been great with many questioning the quality of those in critical positions. What was your thinking then and do you still feel the same way?
VP JHT: My thinking then was someone in the euphoria and exuberance of the moment. We had just won this overwhelming victory…Could my choice of words been different, yes it could have… but we all live and learn.
The Coalition as a political engine, holds the dreams of MANY; underpinned with the aspirations that our Team would do all within our powers to put in place the structures that would make Liberia work for all Liberians. Thus, beginning a new phase in our Nation’s history where Liberians, in their masses, would finally grasp hold of the Liberian dream of our forefathers, and make it a reality.
But the World is not seen in absolutes; the world is seen in a complex mixture of bits and pieces. And my comment was not about government jobs, as it was about making all sectors vibrant enough to evolve the change, we as a nation, were seeking. We knew that the mix would include the holy, the good, the bad and the ugly – all of God’s children. For it is the only mixture that would include all Liberians, whose only prayer was for a better life for they and their children. Therefore, ensuring that all of us would have opportunities to work for and build the Liberia of our dreams.
I believe the correct question is – how do you see the government’s performance?
I must say that the government has challenges – as any new government would. It has its high points in Road connectivity (a robust process) and its low points in economic stability and new job opportunities for middle class creation.
And truth be told, every new government has a two-year window for getting its feet wet. It is the initial two-year beginners bench mark. Going forward, I believe that much more can be done; but we must stop the in-fighting, unify, recommit, reorganize, put our best foot forward, put into action the PAPD AGENDA; then begin to run faster in achieving our goals, so that we can still make the difference in the time allotted.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Let’s drift a bit toward your relationship with President George Weah. How would you describe it? When last did you see him and what was the mood like?
VP JHT: It is cordial. But as his principal deputy, I wish it were closer. I want to describe the relationship with President Weah as cordial. We had an opportunity to sit together at the 100 convocation of the University of Liberia. If you look at the pictures, you can see us laughing and engaging. I traveled at that point to take part in some women empowerment initiatives in other parts of the world. And I came back at the beginning of December, and everyone was involved in their own personal celebrations for the Christmas. So, I haven’t seen him since then. But I believe that we have a cordial relationship between the two of us.
I mean, I think that question is a very difficult one. And I like to be fair. The Constitution states clearly that the vice president shall assist the president in the discharge of his duties and serve as president of the Liberian Senate.
It leads me to believe that those duties should be ascribed by the president as to how the engagement should be and what interventions are needed. Had I hoped that we would have worked more closely together? Yes, I do.
I remember campaigning with him across the country, across the region, discussing all of the issues, arguing about it and getting to a point where both of us were comfortable enough to take it to the larger body. So, maybe I became spoiled. And I hope that as we moved into working for the people of Liberia, that that relationship would have been as close as it was. However, I must admit that – again, my father used to say, if you don’t walk a mile in someone’s shoes, don’t criticize them because you never know, the demons that people deal with.
I know governance is not an easy thing, especially where we find ourselves with economic issues, security issues, young people advocating for different things. And so, the President is under extreme pressure. I hope as we move into the third year that some of those issues will even out and we will begin to work. I’m hoping that I will get a little bit more involved in rebuilding our country as I do come to the table with quite a lot that I think can be beneficial. But I know that I must wait until the President feels maybe comfortable enough. I should say that to say let’s do this and let’s do that. I’m still hopeful.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: But what were your expectations when you decided to accept his invitation to be his running mate?
VP JHT: I had expected that the both of us would work closely together, as we did in the campaign. It is now public knowledge that I am outside of the inner circle.
My expectations were that the president and vice president would work very closely together. I have to look back at our history and the relationship between Ambassador Joe Boakai and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The two of them worked together very closely.
There are stories of presidents and vice presidents who have had some difficulties. So, that is also in our national fabric. But let me sign this up as if it were a marriage. Maybe that’s the best way I can explain it.
That two people come from two different backgrounds – and they decide to form a marriage and family.
And you get married, you go through all of the fun things.
You come from your honeymoon and you get together and then you realize that your wife has some very annoying habits, irritating habits. I usually say that the wife finds out that the husband also as because we’re not perfect beings. We strive every day to get along. Because it’s expected that we will and it takes some doing.
You know, sometimes you will hear the older people say people who are married – it takes between three to five years for them to settle. Acknowledging that each partner has positive and negative attributes; how we work together so that there is harmony and peace is where the levels of tolerance are. And if you love one another, and if you’re interested in, you know, producing a family; and rearing children, then it’s important to work it out in a way that everybody is comfortable knowing that, okay, this is what he is. He snores at night, you know, and I don’t like making up the bed, for example. So, we find a way to ignore some of the small things and I believe they’re major in People should talk about it. So, I think there’s a time period in any new marriage that, you know, both people have to settle. And I think the two-year period has definitely given us the opportunity to see each other a little bit more clearly. We have a six-year mandate from our country; and I’m praying that things get much better so that we can concentrate on the issues of governance and transforming the lives of our people for which we were elected.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What do you think is responsible?
VP JHT: I think this is a result of inner circle wrangling and power struggles. Where those who feel closest to the powers that be try to keep others out, in order to maintain absolute control. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality!
You know, I cannot as I sit here blame any one person. There are compound issues. There are many people involved in this process. But the truth of the matter is, as I’ve said, here at home over the last few year, reflecting on the two years, reflecting on the people I’ve met, and the challenges I have endured, and the prospects for a better future, I can only say that I pray that we will somehow find a balance.
But then you know when you read a bible, which is the only thing that I can lay my hands on, and it might not make sense to others; but I know that the bible says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and rulers, and powers in high places. And the bible reminds us that though we live here, we must be conscious that these beings are spirits, but they will inhabit bodies at specific times. Because the devil’s work is to ensure that he destroys. As a human, you must understand your destiny.
You must know what you need to do. You must be able to ignore certain things so that you’re able to go toward that destiny. Instead of being sidetracked. Some people are more easily invaded by the spirits that others are. But I think it causes havoc in families, in communities in churches, of course, at the national level, because you’re talking about nations. And I think that’s what has happened over the two years. But I believe also there have been issues of settling power struggles, you know, what are my responsibilities? How do we ensure that no one encroaches on what I should be doing? Or some people believe their responsibilities should be more because of their proximity to the leader. But it’s difficult to pinpoint any one person I know is a combination of issues. If you were to talk to people on the other side They will probably say, oh, you know, Vice President Taylor is difficult to deal with, she’s not a team player – she’s just a difficult person.
However, when you look at the traits that I carry, and I believe they are passive traits; attributes are attributed to the male gender as strengths. However, if a woman strives struggles to get into positions of trust, especially in a male dominated society as ours, you’ll find that people will say, you know, she’s difficult to deal with. She’s hard to settle. She’s not a team player, exact same traits, two different persons, two different perceptions of how people are.
I know as a female; I am one of the very few females in the room. And as a mother, you strive to do a little bit more and bend a little bit and try to accommodate. But at my age, I have some strong beliefs. You know, there’s some things I just want to and there’s some things if I see, I will just say, hey, I don’t think this is right. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to change the dynamics; but I’m having my say, so that tomorrow when something happens, no one can blame me.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you think you are responsible for this negative reaction?
VP JHT: No, I don’t believe so. Simply because I am still the same Jewel Howard Taylor who brought the NPP to this Coalition and was a strong pillar in winning the 2017 election. After election the dynamics have changed and some of the inner circle members have been found to say – she is hard to deal with and she has a hard head. Unfortunately, these traits when ascribed to strong men are admirable; whereas the same traits being exhibited by women are seen as – over bearing, hard to deal with, not a team player, opinionated etc. etc.
A person at this level that I am should never believe they are 100% free. And it would be naive of me to say so. Probably, when you look at leadership styles of people, you must be able to gauge what you can do at any given point.
I’m sure I have my own faults. But I believe overall, I’ve tried to work around major issues and only raise them when I’m ready at my width’s end that I’ve tried to say something or impact in a positive way or bring something to the table.
And if I’m not able to have it said maybe at a Cabinet meeting, you know, then in some of the soft meetings that we usually amongst members of the Cabinet, you know, I try to bring up and I’m sure I have my part to play in it.
I have much more experience in terms of my public service. So, maybe my perspective, you know, has to be a little different, as opposed to some people who had not had that privilege to work in different levels of governance, as I have, and I have to remember that as I bring my issues to the table, I have to remember that others might not see my way. So, I have my say, and then I let it go. I’m sure I have some part to play in, in some of the issues that have happened. But I think I’ve tried my best to reduce the tension in many cases. And to let things go when it just seemed that it was the best thing to do. As we go into year number three, I’ll try harder.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you think some of the inner circle members of the Congress for Democratic Change respect and appreciate the position you hold?
VP JHT: Let me say, that it seems as if I have become an “EXPENDABLE ASSET”. And I have to draw my answer from the perspective of the campaign – and I knew that I was a key figure in all of us.
Whether it was deciding how many t shirts you bought, or the fact that the Liberty party had bought a hundred vehicles and we didn’t have any and people were agitated, “we need you know, we need vehicles, we need motorbikes.” And I don’t remember any issue being discussed that my opinion wasn’t sought for. So, I think during the campaign, there was a level of respect that I received from everyone, especially the young partisans.
But we get into governance and there’s a lot going on.
The camaraderie that we enjoyed during the campaign seemed to have dissipated. And people begin began to get involved – with their own work at different levels. And so, we meet but there was now more rivalry.
Maybe someone wanted their project to succeed, as supposed to someone else. And so, you will find out that the friendship that we carried to the almost 18 months of campaigning has now to go to you know, We’re friends before have a relationship beyond just the politics. But I must also look at the leaked tapes that have come up within the past year.
The superintendent of Bong County, a long-time friend and a sister for more than 25 years. I’m not sure why she spoke as she did.
In all of the attending things that happened – and many people including myself thought, okay, in isolation, so let’s, you know, forget it and move forward.
But then when you hear from the chairman of the party – and I think he was sober, I think he was in his right frame of mind, I think he was actually frustrated in trying to talk about the issues that had him a little baffled. But his comments corroborate, you know, the comments made by the Gbarnga County Superintendent.
And so, I believe as a result of the two leaked tapes and the revelations from some of them, they can lead anyone to believe that it is because of the background talk for which I’m not apart. could make some people believe that okay, she’s there but she’s an expendable asset. You know, if certain things continue you know, we don’t need here, we’ve already reached to where we are – I believe that some people think that way because I feel it, I see at times when I go to different places.
The interaction I would get maybe during the campaign is completely different. Now people are irritable, when you try to bring an issue. They don’t, you know, want to pay attention to listen to you. And it makes people feel really a little bit lost because whatever it is, we are one crew working together to accomplish the something and we should be able to watch each other’s back and protect the process, the legal process, so that we all arrive at where we hope will be in the interest of our country. So, I do believe that there is some level of disrespect in different places.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you believe that there is an issue of unfettered distrust between you and the President on the one hand and you and those within his inner circle on the other?
VP JHT: I believe that the inner wrangling and power struggles around the Presidency are cause for the lingering uneasiness between the President and I, a situation which makes others to believe that my position as an elected Vice President can be treated with disdain and disrespect.
I think it’s just one journey. Because, the head of state is our leader and all of us serve with him and as a mother, I know that if you visit my house today, and I told everyone from yesterday or you know, Mr. Rodney Sieh will be visiting me on Monday morning and you come to the gate and they expect you and they show you in.
If I were to say anything negative after this process, maybe the next time you came, your reception will be quite different. So, there are things that actually elicit the behavior that we’re seeing. And like I said, I’m not a part of the background meetings or the background conversations. The reason why most women feel left out of the political sphere is that you know, they will call a meeting at one o’clock in the morning.
And one o’clock in the morning, Rodney Sieh, I’m in bed. Most women go out at that time and so being men as they are normally, this is not a strange phenomenon, that those kinds of you know, smaller meetings will be held and consensus is built at certain levels. But I wouldn’t say that there is a mistrust in the meaning of that word because over the last two years with all of the wrangling going on, we’ve had several meetings.
Some of our fathers in the land have called the both of us(President Weah and I) to see what’s going on. And I know the President will always say, “I don’t have a problem with her.”
We’ve never argued we’ve never gone at each other, word for word or engage in a war-of-words. We’ve never had a negative, you know, embrace and he would say, “I don’t have an issue with her.” And people will say, “so, what’s the problem”?
And he would say, every day, someone comes to me with a story – the vice president is this, the vice president is doing that, the vice president is doing another thing.”
And anybody will get concerned.
But after all the talking he would say, you know, you guys who are ministers and part of the framework, everybody go work, and let’s work, we got work to do. So, if I were to really be truthful, you don’t know what in the hearts of people. So, I can only say how I feel that I have no, no iota of hatred, or disrespect or any negative feelings toward the president.
I know he’s trying to accomplish a job and those of us who are around him must sometimes put aside our personal issues and join that work. Are there issues with some of the people in government? Yes, there are issues. You know, I felt disrespected, I felt ignored at sometimes. And I think I’ve been patient for a two-year period just to continue to work this through. So, I do believe that there is some issue here and there about or between me and some of the ministers.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf received a lot of flak in that she did not do much for women’s rights and gender issues. What are you doing to address those issues?
VP JHT: My Father had a saying that -unless you have actually walked in another man’s shoes, you must not criticize. I happened to be a member of the 52nd, 53rd and 54th National Legislature of Liberia; and I saw first-hand the work done by Madam Sirleaf first in changing the national perception that women couldn’t be strong leaders, speaking about issues which were seen as a taboo in our social fabric, then submitting laws for Legislative enactment which would ensure that those perceptions were changed and finally seeking support to guarantee the respect for said laws.
Most people think it’s an easy process; it is not; especially in a predominantly male patriarchal society. I am of the strong conviction that Madam Sirleaf changed the perception and laid the foundation for the acknowledgement of women’s rights and gender mainstreaming.
Those of us who follow the giants who blazed the trails and set the lines for the women’s agenda, such as Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others are carrying the baton. As one of the foremost women leaders in the Legislature, it is our responsibility to ensure the remaining structures are in place, i.e. that gender quotas are enacted and made mandatory throughout the governance structure so they can no longer be considered optional; and that FMG is banned by law throughout our national fabric as other nearby Nations have done and that the Liberian Constitution reflects the changes needed to guarantee equality and balance. As the first Female Vice President who is a gender advocate, I am a vibrant part of these discussions which form part of my duties and commitment.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: In the wake of what you’ve been going through over the past two years, do you have any regrets about accepting President Weah’s offer to serve as his running mate?
VP JHT: No, because of the decisions made and honored, I am the first Female Vice President of my Nation. But I am also cognizant of the fact that this position comes with many strings attached, some easier to carry than others. I am expected to walk a tight rope and remain under the radar; yet continuing to work towards fulfilling the goals under the women’s agenda in spite of the many challenges. This is indeed my most challenging assignment yet; but by the grace of God I will SUCEED.
No, I don’t because today, I am Liberia’s first Female Vice President. And when you are in a situation as I am. You must also look at what is the positives that has come out of an arrangement like this. I think the fact that I have been given such a platform provides unlimited opportunities to impact the women’s agenda and to impact my generation – and that’s a high point. Are there challenges? Yes, there are as I said earlier, there are challenges, we would continue to work at them, we will continue to soften our stance when we can, we will continue to ensure that I remain a positive force for our country and our nation. But I don’t regret being chosen because I am where I am today.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Let’s come to the issue of the budget and allocations to your office. The MFDP says you have received about 3 million since you came into office. Yet we have heard reports that you are struggling to get by, especially with logistics and other operational issues. What is the real story? Could you explain?
VP JHT: The budget in my office consists of funds for salaries, operations, travel allowances and special projects. My office has over the 2 years received salaries, travel allowances and funds for the hosting of a women’s empowerment forum SHEROES in 2018.
What we have not received are security vehicles for the Vice President convoy, the two official armored vehicles for the VP, and the police escort vehicles. I’m currently using my personal vehicle and my convoy is completely vulnerable thus putting at risk my life and that of others including pedestrians. My convoy has been involved in 2 major accidents as a result of the lack of Police escort vehicles to alert incoming traffic. Also funds for our general operations to include fuel, repairs, office supplies, local travel expenses, special projects, contributions have also not been forthcoming.
The funding for operations is critical for the running of all offices in Government, which include the offices of the President, Vice President, President Pro-Tempore, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Ministries and Agencies. This allows the engines to run smoothly. It allows the office of the Vice President to run smoothly also, and allows the Vice President to make timely intervention and contributions to people living with disabilities and to special interest of the Vice President which fall in line with national priorities; for me as a female Vice President, these special interest cover women empowerment initiatives; support to disadvantaged girls , victims of rape ; and victims of sexual and gender based violence; and to young people in business, culture and the arts.
Knowing that other offices have been paid their operations, so they’re better functioning, offices that are lower than the office of the Vice President have received all of what they have requested, I found out that two payments were made on December 23, the first payment was made in two checks to the Office of the Deputy Speaker of operations in the amount of owner 150,000, United States dollars and then made it House of Representatives for some other payment. And I was just totally blown out of the water.
And this is not particularly to the individual in our office and I want to be clear, because, you know, politics is a really tricky thing. So, it wasn’t about him ,it was about the fact that the Ministry of Finance, could make a $US150,000 payment for operations for the Office of the Deputy Speaker and they have not done that for me in two years.
I, over the last two years have had to go beyond my means, you know, get to friends to help us – oh, please repair this car.
And I just I just got tired doing it. And when I found out that somehow, you know, this funding that is so important to my office was also being paid to other offices, I felt that there was something wrong and that I had to – even though I had engaged them from time to time, that I had to actually do something, so people will know that that – I believe is an error and it has strangulated my work.
And then I wanted something done about it – and I took a decision to write the relevant letters that I couldn’t go out, I had no vehicles, no security vehicles and then I couldn’t go to my office.
You can imagine at the beginning of this year, how many people would come; how many issues will come across my desk, and I won’t be able to even handle one of them. And I couldn’t deal with it.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Has anything changed, since this issue you’re having with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning came to the limelight?
Well, I know the President when he got my letter, have sent a small delegation to me to talk about what the issues were because he kept hearing himself, “we’ve paid out $US3.7 million dollars over the two years. So, he was concerned about what the real issues were. And so, we sat down, we looked at all of the books, and exactly what I was saying is exactly what they found out. So, I think a report was sent back to the President and I’m hoping that the Minister of Finance is working on – now there are three issues now.
The first issue is bills that we incurred for logistics, for vehicles, for office staffers, and fuel and other things for 2018.
In 2019, because we didn’t get payment for those other things, I told them, Hey! I don’t want to get to the point where the office owes people – half a million dollars or a million dollars. Because we could have kept saying, well, just credit us Ink, just creditors, people, just creditors few by now the bills be more than know what it is.
So, I said, let’s just hold on, we’ll manage. If we can’t go somewhere, we just can’t. And so, we didn’t increase that bill, more than what it was in 2018, which they still haven’t paid. So, that was an issue first issue I raised with the team that had come.
The second issue was I wave my operational money, operational funds for 2018 to 2019 and that they should please pay my office what’s due for July 1 to December 30th 2019 because I knew the country had difficulties because I knew the country had difficulties that we had already gone to the period we’ve already endued.
So, it didn’t make sense to say, well, you know, even though I was entitled to this amount, and I was budgeted for it, the proper allotments were made and you didn’t pay us. I’m not interested in dragging government to any place beyond you know what my needs are.
So, we’ll waive all of the extra operational funds and we just wanted paid, the bills of the things that we took 2019, the operational funds for the 2019 July 1 to December 30th – and then the issue of the vehicles that I actually need – I need a bulletproof car, I need a few security vehicles to kind of fill in on convoy so I’m able to safely travel to places that I have to go. So, those are the issues that we ended on and I am hoping that something will be done to remedy those issues.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: After all of your 20 plus years in public service, the Taylor name you bear, in certain circles appears to still be stigmatized. Do you agree? And if YES, how do you think that can be addressed?
VP JHT: What is in a name? If not the completeness of a family, which include legacies, both good and bad. Though this is a given, all individuals must strive throughout their life to uphold that which is good and of a noble report. Thankfully existing laws have declared illegal, the imputing of crimes on others simply because of family relationships. I wish this law could wipe from the human consciousness the biases which form human opinions. It therefore behooves each of us to live in ways which uplifts the family names we carry, knowing that all actions good or bad, affect others yet unborn.
Yes, the Taylor name still carries some stigma, but it is my responsibility, in spite of the challenges, to continue to leave positive lasting legacies; which I hope will diminish whatever stigma this name carries.
All of us have names. We each have names, connections, history, legacies, whether positive or negative, from both sides of our family – what is from your mother’s side or from your father’s side? And you will find out that in African societies, if you show up and they say what is your name? And you said my name is Jewel Howard Taylor, then other things come up. Or is this a Taylor that did this or did that – and is it the Taylor who did this or did that? So, those names carry a lot.
Maybe that is why the Bible is stated that the sins of the Fathers will follow the children to the third and fourth generation as a warning to parents so that you are warned to be careful how you live into Be careful what you do because whatever it is good or if it’s bad generations following you can actually feel the brunt of the positive or the negative effects of your name. I have realized over my 20 plus years that that name has two very strong emotions. You meet some people who just hate it maybe some engagement with former president Taylor Maybe something happened to them during a war for we solely responsible for but you either hate him or you love him. If you travel across Liberia and you ask most people have good things to say about President dealer. So, at home I think that name is definitely positive for me. It allows me to go into many places that normally I won’t be allowed, especially as a woman. He allows me to engage the traditional people he allows me to. Young people are curious, you know. So, who is this? Is she like, former president Taylor, what is what are the things she believes in what is a passion?
So, they’re inviting me all over to kind of hear what comes from inside. I think I’m more comfortable at the home base. However, when you step aside, there’s some people who, you know, have a whole different feeling about what that name carries. And so, I deal with that stigma every day. I hope that as I work, as I continue to engage my nation among people, that one day the name will carry the positive The flavor that I believe I’ve carried throughout my life, and that the negativity which was not my fault, for which I had nothing really to do it, perceived or real or imagined, will now take center stage. And they will talk about the goodness of what was and what I’ve done, and that that negative part will begin to die a little bit. But again, we’re talking about a lifetime. So, I’ll keep working out keep engaging, and hopefully the fears or apprehensions of others who wish to continue to, you know, talk about this one thing will finally go away.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: When asked in a December 2017 Al Jazeera interview whether, you had concerns about Mr. Weah’s lack of experience you said “Being president requires commitment, collaboration and love for country. No one has shown more love for Liberia than George Weah.” Do you still feel that way?
VP JHT: I believe that President Weah loves this Nation like many other Liberians do. But the national perception of that love or lack thereof is not in itself a final judgement based on mistakes made at a certain point in one’s journey. To me, it is a combination of the totality of all actions and/or inactions over a life time; upon which the final determination can be made. As we are all humans who will stumble and fall along the way; we should never be judgmental, lest we fall in a greater measure; but instead pray that the great arbiter of our faith will grant each one the grace needed to reach their goal.
And you know, I still feel that way and let me tell you why. I believe love for anything, whether it’s a relationship or it’s children always an assignment or it’s this Liberia we all love, is caged over a period.
There are times we all get frustrated with the Liberian story. In our generation, we don’t seem to see it coming to where we want. So, there are people clamoring for more, people pushing for more. But in our darkest moments, we must also remember the good times. I believe Ambassador Weah showed his love for Liberia during the Liberian crisis.
He could have stayed away and played football and made his money and just stayed out like many people have done and they only come and think there is something they can get on a thing where somebody can get but he remained engaged with Liberia for many, many, many, many, many years. And to do that actually means you love something.
If not it’s easy to just say I gave up. And the difficulties we’re facing now as a country, under his leadership has a lot of features. You know, the economic situation across the world is dampened in terms of Iron ore, rubber, for example, our main exports. So, we are the low slump in the economic cycle. Is he responsible? No, it’s an economic cycle.
We have many young people, 60% of our population is made up of young people. Are we able to give even 10% of them jobs at this point? No. We have to put in place new programs, new plans, and new ways to capacity them. And that takes planning and it takes funding.
And so, I don’t think we can blame everything that has happened on his leadership. And I like to say also that over the two years, you know most countries start in this way get a small break. All of us have gotten our feet wet, even me. I’ve never been vice president before. And I hope after this honeymoon period, we can now see the real work start to impact the lives of our people, irrespective of the mistakes that have been made.
The President, however, is not the governor of the central bank, the governor of the central bank has responsibilities to take certain decisions to maintain the economic situation in our country; The finance Minister has his responsibilities, the minister of sports or agriculture, all have specific responsibilities, and they too should be held responsible when things go awry.
So, it’s not just one person, even though he’s the leader. The legislature has a role to play. The legislature’s role is so critical for oversight, ensuring that the plans and programs are done. What is that oversight? Is it being done? are they holding meetings and holding people accountable like they should? And I think at that level, there’s not much that’s going on. And I think they too need to step up to the plate. So, that all of us together, what is the judiciary and the legislature, and the presidency can actually work in the interest of our people.
So, yeah, there have been some challenges over the two years. But I think his love for Liberia remains. Many of us that are so engaged, Love Liberia. When I was first lady and I left to go into exile in 2003, I could have gotten a job and gone somewhere else but I elected to come back home because of my love, I never believed I would be sitting here.
So, I didn’t come with an expectation that things would have gotten better, I came home and was seeking a job and people said, you know, your name is Jewel Taylor, there’s no way we can give you a job. And so, when the opportunities for the elections came about, you know, out of the blue, someone said, Let’s, let’s try it, you may win. So, it wasn’t something that I had in my mind. And I said, Well, I’m staying because I know that I’ll be this or that I’ll be that.
When I won my seat in 2014 – that’s what I wanted a second tenure in one county. I know initially, when the discussions were taking place, I said, No, I’m fine. Let me you know, sit where I am and finished work that’s been assigned. So, just to stay, to remain engaged, to remain in a position where you can actually say yes, we have some issues. But can we work it? I think it’s where he is. And I can still say that I believe he loves Liberia.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you sometimes advice the president on issues affecting the country? Is he someone who accepts advice?
VP JHT: My role one of an advisor – If and when called upon to do so. In the end, the final decision rests with the Principal who bears the burden of the choice made.
As Vice President, I think That is a primary rule because when the constitution says the vice president shall assist the president in the discharge of all of his duties, this is what is required, advising, getting full information on issues, so that, you know, my advice would be appropriate.
However, because of the difficulties we’ve had over the last two years, I don’t think I’ve been able to play that role. And, as I said earlier, I’m praying that as we go into year number three, some of those things will fade away. And, you know, both of us have realized that we have four years left, and that we must do what we have promised to do.
So, that the people of Liberia in their gauging of whether we have fulfilled our commitments or not, can be able to give us a good passing mark. So, there’s much more than needs to be taught.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Madam VP, with all the challenges, difficulties, accusations and misconceptions about your perceived ambitions, have you ever considered or thought about resigning?
VP JHT: Truthfully, yes, many times, not just once. And there were those in my office who would say, perhaps you were better in the Senator’s office. But my chief of staff would always say, no, the Liberian people are still waiting for you to do what you and the President said you would do. So, there’s no going back. But you know as humans, some things would occur and you will say, Oh, god! Did I make the right choice?
Yes, I have…. but like I said earlier, I am not a quitter; especially now. For I have the rare privilege to have been elected by the people of Liberia in 2017 and not just the CDC. I now belong to the STATE, whose trust I must bear till the end of this mandate. It is often said – “that tough times don’t last, only tough people do.” and there is certainly a silver lining beyond the clouds.
And so, I have quite a few times, said you know maybe I didn’t make the right choice, maybe I’m the problem for which this marriage is having all of the stumbling blocks.
It’s good to say, internally, you know, well, maybe I’m the problem, what can I do to fix it? But in spite of the many challenges, I know that the people of Liberia when they went to cast their ballot, they looked at the combination of what then Ambassador Weah brought to the table and what I brought to the table – and how we have managed to put in place in the campaign, a robust team that could deal with any issue – give us proper information, give us proper advice – that’s how we won.
If we didn’t have a good team, we probably would not have won the elections, because it’s good to jump around and, and do the songs but the strategies are important. So, I know that there is a beautiful coalition team that has the expertise of many persons, which we need to bring to bear. And so, I pray that year number three – going on that we won’t have any regrets, that there would be allowed to fully engage.
And Rodney I can be – I look at my years of experience and what I was able to help madam Sirleaf accomplish in the legislature.
How can I be at this level and not be able to make the impact for which the President sought when he began looking for vice president. Whatever the undercurrents are, I pray that will begin to look carefully at Liberia.
What is that people want? How can we again come together and work? It is possible in the time frame that we have. And that should be our legacy. Hopefully, everyone will at this beginning point of the year, look back and see, you know, the missteps; look back and see how disjointed we were, unlike during the campaign and somehow come together. We have to unify; we have to put the past behind us, we have to gear up for ensuring that each of us that has a part to play in the Pro Poor Agenda does everything within their power to make it work so that the trust and the faith given to us in 2017 will not have been squandered.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Finally, Madame VP…What are your plans for 2020, and what’s your message to the young people of Liberia as we begin a new decade?
VP JHT: I’m hopeful that 2020 would be more productive than 2019 in terms for our deliverables. My plans are all in line with supporting the PAPD of H.E the President. But I intend to be more aggressive when it comes to my advocacy and leadership in dealing with the scourge of rape in our society. I intend to use my voice and be a lot more robust in working with other leaders in our society to provide more assistance and counseling to rape victims. Too many of our daughters are being affected and the statistics are just too alarming. We owe it to them not to neglect or forsake them. This I can say with confidence.
To the young people of Liberia, I say the future of any society must be a collective one, dreamt of, worked for and created by their share force of wills. For the majority must believe that their dreams are worth not just dying for but also worth working for. And that the destiny of Mama Liberia can no longer just be dreamt about; each one must tie his/her booth strings, roll up his/her sleeves and begin from the bottom up.
Sadly, there is no magic wand that can instantly create what we want; yet if we believe in the power of our dreams and our abilities to build a new Liberia, we have to unite, set our sights above the fray; join hearts and hands together and begin to build. Each one cognizant of his gifts and talents, bringing the full measure of same, working to create something greater than ourselves. I believe that it’s not late and that by the grace and favor of the Almighty God – We can together build a united, equitable and prosperous nation for us and for prosperity.
As I sit here this morning, the priority for me I think is working in the environment that I find myself in a way that reduces any tension that I bring to the table. Because I don’t want to be the cause of us not, you know, accomplishing the promises that we made to our people. So, that’s priority. Working on is smoother relationship
With his Excellency the President and those in the inner circle, so that all of us can put Liberia first.
At the level of the Office of the Vice President, I think I will continue my advocacy for women’s empowerment and education and mentoring, here at home and abroad.
The women across Africa see me as the only prominent female at this level. So, there are many – I mean, sometimes we have to say, okay, we can’t do this. There are many invitations across the world, I hope I would be able to attend some of them.
I hope that the agenda for rape is enhanced so that we can actually do some things to find out why, you know, the rape issue is becoming more alarming. What can all of us do to reduce it, I’ll be involved in that fight. I’ll be involved in some issues concerning sexual and gender-based violence and sexual and gender-based issues. And I will also hopefully, work in places where his Excellency the President, you know, may ask for my intervention for the young people.
For the young people of Liberia, I want to be an inspiration to them first, looking at where I’ve come from. If you go down the street just a few miles from here, you’ll be able to see where I grew up in a zinc house.
I was born in Lofa and moved to Monrovia early with my parents. And they were hard workers but weren’t rich. Some child from Lofa County that had the opportunity to come and go to school and go across the world and become First Lady not in my purview and then get elected – I think I got the second highest votes, next to Prince Johnson in 2005.
Being allowed to serve my first term and then be reelected by the people of Bong County and now being vice president. The young people see me as a motivation, both male and female and I will continue to advocate and continue to inspire them that you can be whatever you want to be.
You just have to find your destiny, find your passion and stick with it. Because it’s difficult, hard work and the commitment it takes to kind of keep walking one day at a time until you reach your goal.
I hope with all of the new programs that are coming from the international community and some programs from our own government, that the Ministry of Youth and Sports in general, other ministries and agencies will actually begin to work in a major way.
There are already some small things happening. But we need it done at a higher level so that many more people are impacted. I’m hoping that we can begin some real serious agricultural projects, because in the end, if we can feed ourselves, and we can begin to ship food, which everyone eats – from the highest to the lowest level, every day, that will help us get foreign income.
It will help us absorb young people who are idle, walking around, it will help us give an opportunity for training and capacitation of the mass numbers of young people across our country. So, I think those are the issues That I would like to work on in 2020 given all of the opportunities because again, some things to be done in order to enhance your work.
As a statesperson, I’ll continue to do what I can to make a difference. And I pray that 2020 will bring many more opportunities for us to work harder for our government and our people, for our government to fulfill much more of his commitment for us to do an assessment of where we are, and then make the necessary adjustments. So that together we can to the great things that all people expect.