Liberia: Vice President on Strain Ties with President Weah – ‘ I Wish It Were Closer’
Monrovia – The last time President George Manneh Weah and his Vice President were together in the public domain, the atmosphere, according to VP Jewel Howard Taylor was cordial. It was last August, nearly five months ago, during the 100th graduation ceremonies of the University of Liberia.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Despite the public show of camaraderie and togetherness at the time, lingering pains and distrust which have been in the air for months, since the start of Mr. Weah’s ascendance to the presidency, have divided the court of public opinion on what has actually been going on behind the scenes
A Trail of Controversies
In May 2018, the VP was forced to offer a public apology to President Weah, acknowledging in an appearance on the Truth Breakfast Show (TBS), to wrongdoing in cases of traveling at her own discretion and without the knowledge of President Weah.
The VP went on to beg for compassion and forgiveness, with a promise never to repeat such acts, which are said to be disproportionate to democracy, and has called for consultations on relevant matters at all times.
Despite her apology, the VP pointed to some misunderstandings between she and her boss, but she said the situation had been “amicably resolved.”
In the weeks that followed, the strains became anything but amicable.
In December 2018, the Liberia National Rural Women (LNRW) with membership throughout the 15 counties prevailed on the President and his Veep to settle their “in-house political differences and move on with the country’s development agenda.”
A month earlier, the President submitted a bill to the national legislature, wrestling away the Vice President’s oversight of the lotteries and granting himself appointing powers to someone with a deciding vote, effectively leaving his vice president in the cold.
Since 1993 when the legislature first enacted the bill, the vice president has had oversight of the lotteries. In the past twelve years, former vice president Joseph Boakai had the deciding vote on the lotteries board.
In recent weeks, the issue has shifted to funding amid concerns from the Vice President that operational money for her office are being strangled by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
The prevailing issues have done little to ease the speculations.
“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.”– Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor
‘Constitution States Clearly’
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica in an exclusive interview on Monday (the second of three parts airing today), Vice President Howard-Taylor acknowledged that while the relationship between she and the President has been somewhat cordial, she wishes things would have been better than they are. “It is cordial. But as his principal deputy, I wish it were closer,” the VP lamented.
“I want to describe the relationship with President Weah as cordial. We had an opportunity to sit together at the 100th convocation of the University of Liberia. If you look at the pictures we were, you know, 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.”
She adds: “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.”
Entering its third year, the Vice President fears that the formula which led the ruling coalition to victory is being neglected. “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.”
Despite her reservations, the VP left the door open to the possibility that the President may simply be overwhelmed by the post-elections’ challenges. “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.”
Public Knowledge: ‘I’m Outside the Inner Circle’
“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.”– Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor
Asked what were her expectations going into and after accepting President Weah’s offer to be his running mate, the VP says she expected that the both of them would work closely together, as it was during the presidential campaign. Sadly, now she says, things have changed. “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.”
Pointing to history, the Vice President said: “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.”
The VP said the first two-years should be a learning curve for the administration going forward. “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.”
The VP explained that pressure from the president’s inner circle is a contributing factor to many of the problems unfolding. “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!”
Nevertheless, she says, the blame cannot and should not be placed on one single 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 years, 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.”
Asked whether she feels responsible for the negative reactions to what has been unfolding, the VP said: “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.”
But she says, the dynamics changed after the election. “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.”
The VP was quick to acknowledge her own limitations. “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.”
But even amid her willingness to be patient, VP Howard Taylor says it is no secret that everyone knows she is being kept out of the loop of the inner circle. “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.”