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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Six Years With Weah Jewel Opens up on Strained Relationship

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In a candid interview with the Oracle News Daily, outgoing Liberian Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor disclosed that she did not enjoy a positive working relationship with President George Weah during their six years in office.

Jewel, a prominent figure in Liberian politics and a member of the National Patriotic Party said her experience working with President Weah was marked by a lack of camaraderie and collaboration.

“I wouldn’t say we were buddies,” Taylor said during the interview, shedding light on the dynamics of her tenure as Vice President alongside President Weah.

Her comments offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Liberia’s political leadership and provide insight into the challenges faced by the first Liberian woman to hold the office of Vice President during her time in office from 2018 -2024.

The second most powerful woman in the West African Country’s politics revealed her likely intention to lead the National Patriotic Party in steering an alliance and forming new partnerships ahead of the 2029 presidential elections.

With this announcement, she signaled her determination to play a pivotal role in shaping the political landscape of Liberia and to pursue her ambitions for higher office in the upcoming electoral cycle.

Jewel’s statements are likely to provoke significant discussion and speculation regarding the future of the political landscape in Liberia.

Her decision to assert her leadership within the National Patriotic Party and pursue new partnerships underscores her commitment to shaping the nation’s political trajectory in the years to come.

The revelation of a strained working relationship with President Weah and Taylor’s future political aspirations are expected to generate keen interest among the Liberian public and political observers.

The implications of her statements may spark discussions about the potential impact on future political alliances and the broader dynamics of the upcoming presidential elections.

The disclosure from Jewel Howard Taylor sheds light on the complexities and dynamics within the highest echelons of Liberian politics.

As the nation looks ahead to the 2029 presidential elections, Taylor’s remarks are poised to have a significant impact on the unfolding political landscape, setting the stage for heightened anticipation and speculation in the years leading up to the electoral contest. See page full text.

Oracle News Daily Exclusive Interview With Out Vice President of Liberia Her Excellency Chief Dr. Jewel Howard Taylor

OND: How is the transition going Madam Vice President?

JHT: I think the transitional process is going smoothly from our end. Different agencies of government are finalizing their respective reports. We have the deadline of January 15, so I think everybody is in gear to make sure that the report is given to the transitional team. The report talks about what actually happened in the past six years and about those things that are actually in the pipeline.

Lot of projects are ongoing for the next two years. The report is to tell our story as a chance to get back to power-that’s what I am looking at.

OND: What are the outstanding projects?

JHT: like the Ministry of Health for example, a new hospital to be built in the southeast, a construction of a new hospital commenced in Kakata,  during the campaign, there are projects in education- new high schools to be built all over the country. There are three mega high schools also being built, one in Bong County, and so in the public works sector a lot of projects are ongoing.

OND: You are an existing government exiting against your will-that is you were seeking reelection and lost. Let’s look at the organization of the National Elections Commission, what you see as success and then the pitfalls.

JHT: The first thing we are going to talk about is, you said we are leaving the government against our will. You know whenever you head to a process, a democratic process there are two things that are going to happen: you either win or lose.

When everybody gets involved and puts their best forward, I think the Coalition for Democratic Change did all that we could have done and actually if you look at the numbers the country is split in the middle.

So half of the country believes President Weah should be given a second chance and the other half believes that there should be a new roadmap for Liberia and so we got involved but this is the essence of democracy.

I am not leaving the government sad. I will say I am not happy but again it wasn’t a win or die situation. I started a year and half before the campaign period, visiting the counties, looking at the projects that are ongoing, trying to bring to the consciousness of our people the development of PAPD [Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development] and hoping that they would have come on. I hold no hard will against our people. In 2017, we couldn’t believe that we could have won but the Liberian people gave us that opportunity.

The Liberian people want to actually make the decision and I think I can say our democracy is getting stronger and the voices of the people are now being heard in many areas and respected.

There were some shocks in these elections. One of our strongest members, Acarous Gray lost his seat; they have elected him two times. Let us look at this as a win for Liberia and I want to step to the stage that Liberia has won.

OND:  Let’s look at the organization of the National Elections Commission in these elections.

JHT: It was a very tense period. Some people were happy, some people were sad, some people were disappointed. I want to give a thumbs up to the National Elections Commission.

They did their job to the best of their ability and I know there were some challenges there but in the end they helped Liberia to achieve a safe landing. So as much as President Weah heralds for an icon of peace.

The newspaper this morning has both of them [Weah & NEC Chairperson]. I think the two of them must take credit for giving us the safe landing. This is a very challenging democracy.

OND Thoughts on the performance of your party– the Coalition for Democratic Change, the National Patriot Party and as well as your  own performance.

JHT: It depends what part of the coin you sit.  I like to look at the fact that we started a process after the process of 12 years of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration and many critical but yet good decisions that were taken by our government for which President Weah was hailed as an icon of peace.

When we came into power the president wanted to impact the youth population and so a lot of policies that you will see on our books geared toward helping the youths –whether it was finding additional support to the vocational and training centers.

Today all the vocational training centers across the country are renovated and completed. That is a critical piece of nation’s building. People don’t have access to opportunity to be what they want to be and then we have a problem.

Something has to be done and I think our government did very well and thanks to Professor Ansu Sonii for keeping his eyes on the books and that just talking about issues but putting in place special measures.

For the first time after the wars, every multilateral school has been renovated, furnished and operational.

There are computers in the country and the computerized digital world we are in and I think it helps further education. All the public schools have computer network systems.

To help our young people get education and look at the new world that will have a brighter future and I think that’s a great step, teachers were trained from TEVET and some will return to the country sometime in August this year. That’s a plus for President George Manneh Weah.

Hospitals have been built, the salaries of teachers, healthcare workers’ salaries improved and doctors’ salaries also improved.

The minimum salary for a medical doctor is now US$2,000.

Healthcare providers and nurses were before making US$20-30 per month.

Road-network: this government had done more road connectivity within the period of six years than previous governments.

Funding is now available for more roads throughout the country. Remembered, we talk about road from Vonjama to Manikpoma- Qatar is making fund available for and we got additional funds from the African Development Bank for roads  across the country and I think people will find out later as the story unfolds that a lot have be done and I want to thank President Weah for his leadership despite the challenges that we had.

We kept our eyes on certain things that were done very well in terms of development, value for money, women and economic empowerment.

And I think what we didn’t do well is political empowerment.

OND: So how do you see the Unity Party? Do you think they will beat your  six years records?

JHT:  They have a clean slate. When a government takes over they have a piece of blank paper and whatever happens the world is now a different space at a touch of a button you find out what happening anywhere and so we all have to sit back and look and we hope that they carry on those projects that are already ongoing.

Funding for Liberia from our international partners, from different groups of persons that have come to help us build our roads, to build additional facilities for hospitals and additional facilities for education.

And so, those projects that are already signed on and we hope where we stop they can pick it up from there and their responsibilities and I want to leave that with them.

OND: In other words, you laid the groundwork for them to succeed?

JHT by the grace of God depending on the decision that they take and you know governance is about decision making, is about looking at the situation and deciding how you want to handle it and how you will handle that situation only history can tell and so we look and see.

OND: How successful was your government in terms of education?

JHT: The first thing is because of the free education policy that President Weah introduced, the WACESS for students 9th and 12th graders in private and public schools and for the fact that children can go to the universities for free the enrollment across the country has tripled. So you find that more children are in schools now than before.

OND: You talked about massive enrollment of students, the issue out there is that drugs have taken a plague on the  youths community…

JHT: You know when you talk about the drugs as I went there during the campaigns I was quite clear about that and you know drugs in LA that’s Los Angeles, California, New York, Paris, Berlin across the cities of the world.

Every nation is struggling with the issues of drugs at different levels. It is an epidemic. When you have epidemics like we did COVID or Ebola, what do you do? You just don’t complain about it. I am happy as we are sitting here the government has put in place rehab facilities like six centers.

They are volunteers. We cannot go in the streets and gather everybody in the bus to take them there. Maybe they will just leave the next day. Facilities are there so they can voluntarily walk.

For the first time in our history since the war, because when I was growing up we did not have drugs as it is today, facilitates are now available, the government will now ensure by putting money in the budget that these facilitates continue to run.

The issues of drugs have two levels: first thing is what is the family looking like? You must look at that. Some of the people we have on drugs were never part of the wars because if you look at their ages those were in the wars are in  their 40s and 50s.

But those using drugs now are children between the ages of 14 and maybe 30 years old.

However, during the campaign the Unity Party makes it seem as if President Weah brought ‘Kush’ to Liberia which is not the case.

I am looking to see what they will do. There’s a plan to have facilities in each county because drugs are affecting every county and they have put in these facilities to keep it operational.

OND:  President Weah promised to stage a comeback in 2029 votes. What does the future hold for Jewel Howard Taylor?

JHT: That’s a question that only President Weah can answer. I am not even sure what I will do in the next one year and so life has its own ups and downs and no one knows.

When I got reelected for the senate in 2014, my plan was to remain in the senate and maybe in the 2023 contest for president but all of that changed when I was asked to contest as vice president. So time and chances happen to us all. But let’s see how the next six years will be and how 2029 will be like.

OND:  How  the cost of living became an issue during your administration?

JHT: Men and women of wisdom used to say the past always looks better than the present. You hear people say we wished for the old days that things were easier.

What I can say without fear or favor President Weah did a lot to stabilize our country. If you look at the price of rice in Sierra Leone as compared to ours. That’s why you have people coming to buy rice and gasoline here .

There are subsidies put in place costing the government a couple of millions to subsidize the price of rice and gasoline. Those things are very critical and now because of rice we went to riot.

OND: Advice for the new President.  What do you think the new government should focus on?

JHT: Incoming President Boakai has a phrase, Think Liberia, love and build Liberia. I think he believes those words but let’s see the composition of the cabinet. We all must work to build Liberia.

I think Boakai believes in those words and there is a way around to make it a better place. So my hope and aspirations is that at all levels everyone will have the opportunity to serve.

OND: Historically, you are the first female to serve your country as Vice President. Indeed a great honor that many young women will want to follow.

It might have been a great opportunity and a life worth of experience to have served your country as the second most powerful person in command of the government.

Tell us your experience, interactions, serving the Liberian people from this office, and how the office of the vice presidency has treated you so far?

JHT: And you know I am pleased to have been a member of the Senate for many years. Apart from those who came lately when we won that year, I worked with almost all of them. But I think my understanding of running the Liberian Senate with them makes my job easier than running the Liberian Senate.

As a female icon of Africa, there were many times I had to travel to do different things in the sector of empowerment of women. I think the relationship between myself and the senate and the House was very cordial.

Lot of us have family ties and friendship for a long time  and then came political ties like Senator Edwin Snowe, from the National Patriotic Party than the lower House, a relational term that I was able to capitalize on.

We were never disrespected as presiding officer and if I have an issue I will call that person to my office and we will talk about it.

As it relates to the relationship between myself and President Weah I have been cleared on many occasions, the truth of the matter is we have some difficulties not because he and I had a personal beef but the speed of governance and we have some challenges.

What I think in my view is to be respectful to the presidency, be respectful of my boss, and I was only second in following up with responsibilities and doing what I could do. But I think we managed our relationship. We were not buddy-buddy to say the truth but I don’t think we got the point of animosity, at least, I didn’t.

If I have an issue I will raise it at different levels. I am just grateful that at the end of six years, we come to an end amicably.

OND: What would you consider your greatest achievement(s) as the second most powerful politician in Liberia for the past six years?

JHT: I think the most important thing is that I became a voice. Never in history for over 170 years has any vice president had a voice. Go back to history, all the vice presidents were mute.

They wouldn’t speak on issues and they were quiet and maybe the sense of the word and you look at the constitutional phase that says, ‘you shall assist the president in discharge of his duties’ that means you have to wait and if the president saw it fit to ask you help before you can act but being the person I am.

I know clearly. When President Weah and I had the  discussion of being accepted as the vice president,  the issue I raised at that point was that I wasn’t someone  to be quiet. When issues come about I will speak out and I know at times my chief of staff will say, ‘this is not place and I will say know this issue, if any concerning women affecting their lives, sexual and gender based violence or whatever, I wouldn’t wait for the Ministry of Information and I will actually call a press conference to deal with it.

I believe in my six years as vice president I became a force  and I was invited on so many occasions to speak on many things, whether it was international politics, governance, education, whatever it was, I mean I have so many invitations across I couldn’t attend all. That was the most important thing that I achieved.

I want to thank President Weah despite all of that I was never stopped or called to say why are you saying that? Remembered one night, it was the last time I spoke on Spoon TV and I had said I was going on Spoon TV and everybody was calling to stop me from appearing but I told them I was appearing because there were so many negativities against the government.

So I took pictures of many of the projects, including the Emirates Hospital in Gbarpolu , every time they would ask a question, I would send 20 pictures of projects until Spoon TV  people said, is ok now.

The fact is that we have problem, every country has it challenges. We took our time and at the end of the day everybody was like thanks for the appearance and clarity. We should not be afraid of the media. I think if something is wrong we should be able to say it.

OND: What do you think was the most challenging aspect of your administration?

JHT: What I hope to see is the president and vice president work a little bit closer. Because that is how it is supposed to be. When the constitution says that the vice president shall assist the president in his discharge of duty it means that you are in constant conversation with the president about everything.

Both of you got elected on the same ticket. It wasn’t one person. The intent behind the framer’s words is to collaborate. I did not have that kind of collaboration for the six years with my President.

Our collaboration was few and far between. That means it could have been some of the challenges that we face and I am hoping that could be something that needs to change as we move because there is no way that one person can handle national issues.

There are three branches of government- the executive branch has about 24 cabinet ministers, there are SOEs and everybody is involved.

You go for a cabinet meeting. Either you have 50 people, everybody comes to the table to help the President govern and the first person to be his aide should be vice president.

I really pray that the incoming President Boakai, with his experience, will change the dimension of the relationship between the president and vice president.

The truth is the vice president position at the legislature is more like a spy. You over there and you bridge.

So you come from the executive knowing your plans and programs are and you come to the legislature trying to make those plans come alive through the budget on things that your government has decided.

If that is broken or not utilized than you already walking on one foot because the influence of the vice president,  being the president closest commandant should be involved of friendship, communion, interaction, constant engagement that by the time vice president crosses that bridge to the legislature than the things the president wants can be easily handled because that person is the head of the senate and can also sit with the Speaker. So it makes government or governance easier.

That’s what I hope that the next going into will not take advantage to spread lies and falsehood that divide the government but they will find a way to work together for the interest of our people.

OND: What do you think was responsible for not having that kind of relationship with your boss?

JHT: I don’t know and I think I’d try. At times I will send note, text messages. The President and I never got to the point of friendship and I think when you are at that level the friendship is important for the security of the state and the security of your mental state of the country.

But there were all these rumors flying for those six years, oh the President is not speaking to the vice president, oh the President vexed with the vice president. All of that breaks down the governance process and so it came to a point that I have no voice.

Imagine, if President Weah and I had been closer and worked together I believe we could have done much more.

OND: There were rumors that your budget was not coming forth?

JHT: And that’s true also. For few years we didn’t get what we should have gotten but again this is politricks. Marie Washington said it before that there’s difference between politics and politiricks.

Because at times leaders attempt to deny others their rightful place and will take control of the place that you should be. And so I got cut up in that pipeline.

The fact is that I was not member of the congress (Congress for Democratic Change) I came from another political party and some people have their own ideas but that weakens our governance system and I think that was a critical part of  some of the things you saw happening.

I went to Bong to campaign and the old lady said look how the people are treated badly and you say we should vote for President Weah.

I tried not to focus on that but I tried to do my best during these periods of campaigning. That was the most difficult period working together but we were not really.

OND:  On the scale of 1 to 100 how would you rate the Coalition for Democratic Change six-year rule?

JHT: I will give us 80%.

OND: 80% but lost the elections

JHT:  look at how the country is divided. There was a struggle for power and the country was divided in half. But you can see that we still have strength and a lot of people believed in what President Weah was doing.  Like 1997, President Charles Taylor then won where they stopped counting the votes at 75% and I believed he’s the only president that has such a wide margin and you say you beat the people but again Unity Party people cannot see that one.

They won but they struggled but the country is deeply divided in half and that’s a critical thing they should consider and not to criticize people. We are one country and thank President Weah for  doing that.

Many Unity Party people were still in government and we used to complain, oh, chief, you got work for us and gave us these jobs.

One would say Liberia will be considered Liberia. Let’s put all the politics aside and let’s work together and hope that they will take on a similar path of inclusion.

Maybe there are some people in our government who can actually do the work they are called to do and I would like to see some of them put in the place of trust because it is better for all of us. In spite of the fact that the votes are that closed they now have a top job to unite Liberians

OND: Will Your NPP stay with the coalition?

JHT: The agreement that we had, the Congress for Democratic Change was to take us to the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections, we hoped that we would have a second chance but we lost.

So I think each political party in this process now has to go back on the drawing and see where the issues are. Because I was not elected as vice president I am only now the political leader of the National Patriotic Party that takes me from the daily activities of the party.

We should be doing our convention for standard bearer a year before national elections are held and the standard bearer-ship of the NPP will be up again by 2028 I believe. Political leader is a position of advice and I am not sure how things will run. So all parties within the coalition have to go back home and come with their terms of reference of how things will proceed.

Lot of the parties did not do conventions to elect political offices because we were involved in a process where everything seems to come at the same time and so a lot of the positions are now outdated. So there will be a lot of retoning and reassessment for the collaborating parties as we hope for 2029.

OND: Do you think that there could be a rough ride for you from the NPP on the basis that you and Senator Biney have this kind of political differences, unfortunately, you lost and he’s at the heart of power now?

JHT: I don’t think so. The fact is that the National Patriotic Party stayed with the Coalition for Democratic Change. That is the story and that’s true. Senator Biney and a few members of the party decided to jump ship and joined the Unity Party which the Unity Party is also aware that NPP as a body did not follow them and saw the challenges in Maryland during the elections for Biney. Will there be challenges for the standard bearer for the NPP in 2028? Yes, I believe so. There are many people who want to be standard bearer of the NPP. Do I have aspiration, again I have to look and wait to see how the political spacing is. I don’t ever believe that one political party can contest for the presidency and vice presidency again.

I see many coalitions coming together. I think this whole thing will unfold until we get to 2028. so, my options are quite open as to what I can do about it. I am here and watching to see the unfolding but I remain a member of the National Patriotic Party. As the new political leader, I will play my role by advising as the whole process unfolds itself.

OND: You have participated in four national elections. You won three and lost one, the 2023 result was shocking to you?

JHT:  So, coming up on a high note. To be frank I was shocked. I really didn’t expect that we could have really lost the elections. The numbers were closed and I was still hoping for a win and I was still waiting for the elections commission for the final result but again, I am not the arrow head I am just second in command. President Weah with information he had decided for the peace and security of the country, did what he had to do. We want a peaceful Liberia so as to give up our power for peace. Sometimes things are like that.

We worked very hard. The young people were part of this process. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to them. All our first time voters, men and women walked across the length and breadth of this country putting their best forward.

Now there are major events that have taken place in my life. I am writing my book looking at great events of life: my time of being the first lady, my tenure of being senator and being senator for the third most popular counties of our country and the third part of this book has been my six years of being vice president of this country.

OND: You lost your hometown.

JHT: That’s politics. What I heard and again I was not present. I believed people were trucked. Lot of trucking took place. That’s another angle of Liberian politics we gotta look at. Trucking is cheating and it is wrong and I think is disgraceful for the people you want to represent.

 

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