On Friday, October 19, 2018, Liberia’s first female Vice President Chief Dr. Jewel Cianeh Howard-Taylor took what she has been doing for the past 20 years out of the cocoon of her office, the empowerment of disadvantaged girls through education and economic stimulus by establishing the Jewel Starfish Foundation with the tagline: “Changing lives and making a difference- one girl at a time”.
This effort has, nonetheless, not gone without the usual Liberian paroxysm that is an initiative that contravenes the Conflict of Interest clause enshrined in the National Code of Conduct passed by the National Legislature in 2018 and a ploy to undermine the leadership of her boss President George Manneh Weah.
But James Farkollie, a clinician from ELWA hospital said Vice President Howard-Taylor’s move is representative of a lady playing her true role as helpmate to President Weah.
Mr. Farkollie said “King George” [President Weah’s affectionate name], we can safely say that Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor is “the Jewel” in his crown because she is working on those soft issues like education, women empowerment which are captured in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Being a Vice President to a President who handles women issues with passion so much that he declared himself “Feminist-In-Chief”, Farkollie believes that “contrary to cynics’ assertion that the Vice President is acting against the law, President Weah should begin deploying her to educate our girls in order to give our most vulnerable population an opportunity for a better tomorrow.”
Drawing its inspiration from the story “The Starfish Thrower” by Loren Eiseley published in 1969, the organization of Vice President Howard-Taylor’s passion to educate girls in the “Jewel Starfish Foundation” could not have come at any better time than now when the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) is reporting about 226,772 girls of primary school age in Liberia are out of school.
Making a difference in the life of one girl at a time is a tag that everyone regardless of his or her gender should champion if women are to be given a voice in global leadership.
Pundits have opined that the Vice President’s action or actions by any public officials to see impoverished young people go to school are not in contravention of the Code of Conduct as being spewed out in some corners. Additionally, the foundation is being run independent of the Vice President’s influence and not a penny from government goes there.
Article 1.3.6 of the National Code of Conduct says “Conflict of Interest: is when a public official, contrary to official obligations and duties to act for the benefit of the public, exploits a relationship for personal benefit.” In effect, this provision of the law connotes that the Vice President’s action would be in contravention if it was against public interest which the Coalition for Democratic (CDC) government duty to keep.
“If the Ministry of Gender, the Ministry of Education could do everything as regards education, then there is no need for the government to encourage partners to help. It is expected that this government would get criticized for everything because this government headed by Dr. George Weah epitomizes a new horizon that traditional politicians are not accustom to. We have also had a president who would kick his or her vice president aside but President Weah is not doing so. We have had vice presidents who were excess baggage but Jewel Howard-Taylor is doing the opposite by lifting some of the burden off the shoulder of her boss. These things will always be new to those who used to business as usual. Let’s not get carried away by that. This why the CDC campaigned on the change pedestal,” Teta Daisee said in a firm tone.
Former United Nations Secretary General, the late Kofi Annan was right when he said “there is no tool development more effective than the empowerment of women and rightly so, his mentee, President Weah has taken the lead in making sure that women are empowered.
Now, the question that lingers is “how does the act of helping girls go to school and empowering women from your purse amount to violating a law?