Monrovia - FrontPageAfrica exclusive Interview with Senator Jewel Howard Taylor (NPP-Bong County) and vice standard bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) on her role as vice standard bearer and how she intends to filter gender issues in the CDC government and what differentiates the CDC ticket from the other tickets.
FrontPageAfrica: Why did you decide to join the George Weah team as the vice standard bearer? What process did you go through to reach that decision?
Sen. Taylor: The fact of the matter is I was asked to be the running mate to Senator Weah for several reasons. I believe the first reason is that I come from the Kpelleh tribe, I think it’s the most popular tribe across the country and that I am a woman, not just a regular woman.
I think I have become one of the female leaders of Liberia, and so the opportunity to convince women to come on board because our gender agenda is a priority for the CDC. I think my experience in government for 20 plus years will be an asset to a leadership taking over after Madam Sirleaf is no longer there, and I come from the third most popular county evidenced by the NEC’s initial published voter role update.
I also believe Ambassador Weah chose me because of my commitment to peace and my commitment to working for a better Liberia and the fact that I am a very, very hard-working person and we need a team of very hard working Liberians to move our country forward those are some of the reasons I believe I was chosen.
FrontPageAfrica: how were you chosen and what did you have to go through to reach this far? Do you think your gender might be a hindrance or asset to the ticket?
Sen. Taylor: The first thing I had to get re-elected as the standard bearer of the NPP because the NPP is a part of this collaboration and so part of the asset that I bring also is the NPP vote across our Country. I became standard bearer of the NPP October last year and we went into a three-party collaboration and at that point the largest political party in our bloc was the CDC so at that point we accepted that the largest party in our bloc would produce the standard bearer and he or she would get the chance to pick someone from the other parties as his running mate.
There were a lot of people who wanted to be so it had to take a lot of consultation and convincing and the holding of many meetings not just with the NPP but with other parties so it was a process that we didn’t just believe that the names would have come out as earlier it was a surprise when Senator Weah said I accept my nomination and I will also announce my vice running mate it was a really tough process.
FrontPageAfrica: What makes you think the George Weah - Jewel Taylor ticket is different from other tickets?
Sen. Taylor: I believe I am a very strong lawmaker, I have been a former first lady of the Republic of Liberia I am also a lawyer so I come to the table with experience from all three branches of government which I think some of my other colleagues did not have.
I come to the table as a gender advocate. I believe my position on the CDC ticket is a platform for the women of Liberia, there is still so much more that we need to do there are many bills still lingering here.
There are many opportunities that we need to seize in terms of ensuring that women become an actual part of the body of politic not just in token position.
Right now the number of women in positions of our country is very small. We have a lot of work to do whether it is training opportunity and that will be a primary for me in working in a CDC government.
FrontPageAfrica: What differentiates the CDC ticket from others?
I think we are the two most popular people in Liberia everywhere George Weah goes people love him the youth have their hope built-in him because he comes from where they come from because he has a history of under privilege, they see him as someone who comes from where they come from, as underprivileged, a young man who rose to the heights he has risen.
So, they don’t see him as just a role model but as an agent of change. That someone who is coming from his background he understands their situation he understands how they live and the challenges they face so I believe our ticket is a bit different because if you combine the popularity of Senator Weah and add my little popularity and the fact that I come from the NPP background we are the favourite on the October 2017 listing.
FrontPageAfrica: Are there issues that affect women that you think are not being addressed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and mainstream aspirants, which are paramount to you?
Sen. Taylor: Let me say first that we appreciate Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is role model for all of us, she broke the glass ceiling for which Countries in Europe and America have not been able to do.
She brought on the front agenda of our nation the issue of women empowerment and opportunity, and provided us a platform that today you find many women involved in different aspects of Governance so she has done something for which prosperity will remember her as long as Liberia exists and I want to say thanks to her though there are some challenges.
In life no one does a hundred percent; you get on the stage and play your role someone else picks up the tide and I am hoping I will be able to pick up that tide so that we can do what we can so that the next generation picks it up.
The issues that are still critical are issues of under-representation of women in Government we have struggled to pass the equity bill that somehow got stuck in the bureaucracy of the legislature.
We have a new opportunity looking at the constitution, that we hope will come up in the next few years, where we can make our Constitution a gender sensitive constitution like many African countries have done.
We have issues of violence against women and girls and the major issue of empowerment whether it is economic, education and training those are the issues we have. We also have the issue of mentorship we have to see how we can mentor the next generation of female leaders.
FrontPageAfrica: What are some specific plans you have to address some of the key gender issues that have been lingering in the Legislature—the Domestic Violence Bill, FGM, Rape, Women’s Participation In Government.
Sen. Taylor: I will be a strong voice as a citizen of Liberia I have some strong views on some of the issues we should change whether it is tenure of Legislature. How we change the constitution to ensure women have the rights they are clamoring for that will be a priority for me whether as Vice President or Senator.
We then have to go out and encourage women leaders to vote. Thank God we have a good population that can determine whether we vote right or wrong. The second issue is the issue of ensuring that gender-based violence is reduced. That I think needs a collective fight.
Leaders pick up that fight and they talk about it and highlight it but then how are our boys in the home, where a young boy growing up in a home with his mother can end up being a loving husband or a partner of someone who thinks he needs to kill his wife, rape her or beat her to death. What is it that we are training our boys?
And that is something we must consider and that will take not just laws because we have a lot of those on the book. It will take the rethinking of how the family structure is and that will take a lot of intervention, talking and mind changing and that is something I am prepared to work to do.
FrontPageAfrica: How do you see the CDC chances in Bong County, considering that there are two vice presidential candidates from the county, you and Ambassador Sulunteh?
Sen. Taylor: I will be truthful as I always am. It is not going to be a walk in the park, it’s not. It will take a lot of consultation and talking and one thing I can tell you is that I will do my very, very best I will do all of the consultations that are needed and I will try to convince the people of Bong County and the kpelleh people around the country why we make up the best team, and hopefully we will be convincing enough to have the votes given to us. We are looking for a first round victory in October.
FrontPageAfrica: Do you think the tension over George Mulbah’s decision to leave the CDC and join another party would affect the CDC’s performance in Bong. Right now, it seems that the party is split between your supporters and Mulbah’s.
Politics is a choice of wills I do thank God our constitution makes it free that you can join any Party that you want to join or leave depending on your own particular situation.
We have people leave our party, we have people leave other political parties so people think that if their interests are not served in a particular political Party you move somewhere else.
Politics is about interest, it is not a hate relationship and everybody has the right to remain where you are so that when you get involved in the process you can give it your very best.
If you look at some of the people who have left someone will say it is just one vote but I know it is not just one vote I know that whenever someone serves in Government they have their own followings but in the end what do the constituencies want?
We have 73 of those constituencies who have been tested and tried for the past six years that even those who came in 2011 are now at the point where they have been assessed and so the people in those districts will look at each of them and see what you have brought to the table.
Some peoples’ tenure have ended, some have not done what they should have done, some are involved in corruption and mismanagement of County Development funds.
There’s a lot going on. So I think there is no individual that can say I am the person they want, if you have not performed to the level that people have confidence, you will not get re-elected and if you have not done anything to convince people that you are an alternative to the person who is there that person gets re-elected so it is a tough call.
The CDC has its set of candidates we will be campaigning for, so we will see how it works out. I always think about 2011 when the Senate went into election only two got re-elected and sadly again in 2014, does it mean some people didn’t work?
Does it mean some people didn’t work enough? But in Liberia, there is a tribal politics that plays into things that somehow squish the result and undermine the democracy because everyone should be represented.
Sometimes those marginalized groups are left aside because they can never raise the number of votes to be elected but it is a process. Democracy is still growing in Liberia we will continue to do our best and I can assure you that CDC will go out and do our best to ensure that we win these elections not just at the presidency but that we get a majority of our people in the legislature because we will need that balance come January.
FrontPageAfrica: Some citizens say you have not done much during your second term. Can you respond to that?
Sen. Taylor: I have been elected for only two years the work that I have done in my first term is on-going.
FrontPageAfrica: Can you highlight some of the major accomplishments you’ve made in Bong County as a two-term Senator?
Sen. Taylor: Let me tell you some of the projects that are online to get unfolded. In Salala, for example, there was a good mission called the Teasly mission 45 minutes from the main road.
As I did my assessments I realized that students in that area needed education because many kids back there just didn’t go to school, because how do you send your kids to walk 45 minutes all the way to Salala.
I think it is a great impact that school is now complete and we are looking forward to setting a date to have it dedicated to giving people in that area an opportunity to have it dedicated.
Sanoiyea, where I come from, because of it being far away from Totota, got left out and fortunately for we were able to do a high school complex where kids there are learning computer.
There is another project in Panta District a hospital that was built during the Tolbert era used to be called the Sekou Toure medical center that got destroyed during the crisis so that project is also complete and we will be looking to dedicate it.
So there is a lot that has to be done, but primary among them is that I have for the past ten years served on the budget committee, we became second only to Montserrado County and I have ensured that we raised funding going to Bong County from fifty thousand to millions of dollars and those millions of dollars went into hospitals, roads, schools and community development and I think you can’t overlook that.
There are always detractors but I think I am one of the best Senators here but detractors always look at your weaknesses everyone has their challenges and weaknesses but my love for Bong County will be shown in the level of work that I have done.
FrontPageAfrica: If the CDC does not make it to the runoff, would you support the opposition in fulfillment of the Ganta declaration?
Sen. Taylor: That is our commitment, the commitment of our Standard Bearer Senator George Weah and the Coalition that we will not support the ruling Party continuation. those twelve years is more than enough that we need a change and we are standing in the opposition bloc and we in the opposition bloc are putting together a small document that whosoever that in the opposition that goes to second round everybody else will support them, and I am quite sure that if we go into election in October if we do not win on the first round, (we will win) the second round.
FrontPageAfrica: Why in the US on one of your travels did you make a comment about the need to increase the salary of lawmakers, against the Public outcry that you lawmakers are been paid exorbitantly? Why do you want more salary?
I didn’t lobby there for more salary, people took it out of context and I think this interview is important to say that Senator Taylor is not advocating for more salary. When I began my work here in 2006 our salaries were five thousand Liberian Dollars and one thousand United States dollars for about five or six years that was what we made. What I was doing at a Town hall meeting in the US when I got a question from a young man that he thought our salary was just too large and we didn’t need to make the salary we make and I was trying to explain to him about the work we do as lawmakers and what kind of expenses we go through as we deal with the challenges of poverty and under-representation of our people at all levels.
I said if you come to my office on any day, I have to pay school fees and do certain things but I love doing.
It is not a must and there are many lawmakers who don’t do that kind of work but I like to intervene in situations concerning people from my constituencies because I think what all representation is all about and until our country gets to a point where majority of our people get to work and make decent salary we have people coming and calling for these issues, but I thought some of it can be so overwhelming that said if you look at my salary it is never enough to fill all of the gaps and do all of the things that I have been requested to do, and it was that explanation that was taken out of context.
I did not intend to say, and I did not say lawmakers salaries should be increased in fact the CDC position should be on this, which is also my position, that if we win these elections in 2017 and we are the government of 2018 we will definitely do an assessment of the salary scales across our government.
There are some people; twenty thousand a month sitting in one office while others make hundred and fifty United States dollars. The discrepancies between those at the lower level and the higher are just large and we will definitely make it a priority in our first hundred days.
FrontPageAfrica: Why are you always making comments that are against the very downtrodden you depend on to vote for you in 2017, some of which include the latest support to the Farmington Resort 30 year’s tax incentive?
Sen. Taylor: I think people are misunderstanding the whole project. Our country has a tax incentive plan for companies and industries that come to investment twenty million plus, which is entitled to incentives.
This particular incentive program is a 30 years lease agreement not a 30 years tax break and if people look at the document you will know that we are not advocating for a 30 years tax break. Those incentives were given to encourage investors to go outside of Montserrado.
What has to reduce our revenue envelope is the fact that lot of the companies that we brought to the table and enacted are now at a go-slow, like Mittal Steel. A hotel is an investment in people it will provide more than a thousand jobs for Liberians. That hotel is a new facility, it is important to attract investment. The envelope is low because of many other factors