Helen’s new job?

I have heard from a highly reliable source that at the recent Pacific Islands Forum, support was canvassed by the NZ Government for a candidacy by Helen Clark to take up the post of Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

A few weeks ago on 12 January 2009, the UN Secretary-General announced that the current Administrator, Kemal Dervis, was retiring. His four year term ends on 15 August 2009.

The role is a very very senior one at the United Nations. It is basically third only to the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General. They chair the UN Development Group, which is a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments dealing with development issues. This is as big as it gets basically.

My initial source is not anyone within Government or Parliament, or anyone associated with them – I am happy to sign an affidavit to that. I have spies everywhere 🙂 As the story is potentially quite significant I e-mailed the PM’s Chief Press Secretary with the guts of what I had learnt, and asked if they could comment on its accuracy. They have declined to comment which suggests to me it is not without substance.

The role is not elected at large, but appointed by the Secretary-General, and confirmed by the General Assembly. So one does need to have good consensus behind the appointment – however it is not a lobbying game to the same extent say the WTO Director-General was.

Helen will not be the only candidate. It is likely there will be a couple of candidates from within the UN bureaucracy – development and aid specialists. So it will be a choice between a candidate with political leadership experience vs candidates with fulltime development backgrounds. While the decision is the Secretary-General’s, Barack Obama’s support will be influential as the UN wants to build ties with the new administration. All bar the last two UNDP Administrators have been Americans.

The annual budget of the UNDP is close to US$5 billion and they work in 166 countries. This is arguably the most senior job one could expect Helen to obtain as the UN Secretary-General job is done by rotation amongst the regions.

So what’s my reaction to the candidacy, if it is in play? I think it goes without saying that I have not been Helen’s biggest fan. It doesn’t concern me that she led a Government whose policies I disagreed with. Talent doesn’t come from just one side of the political spectrum. And I have generally regarded Clark as an able political administrator – as have most of the public.

But I do have some concerns. To me the pre 2005 Helen Clark is different to the post 2005 Clark. I’m not sure what happened, but somewhere along the way Helen seemed to lose her previously reliable judgement. From 2005 to 2008 she made the wrong call on almost every big issue such as the deliberate over-spending, the initial refusal to pay back the pledge card costs, the inquiry into Taito Philip Field, the Benson-Pope sagas, the Electoral Finance Act, the “trust” campaign against John Key and most of all her continual defence of Winston that defied comprehension. I saw a disturbing commitment to the ends justify the means, which is a slippery slope.

So if the last three years had never happened, I would say supporting the candidacy would be a no brainer.  I feel much more conflicted after the last three years, but then I look at the particulars of the position:

  • Helen has a lifetime of experience and passion on “development” issues and would bring that to the job. If it was IMF Managing Director I’d be worried 🙂
  • She has a formidable international network that would be of great benefit in the job
  • As a former Prime Minister she would bring considerable status to the role, making it easier to get in the door with donor nations
  • New Zealand has a very proud history of doing our part, despite our small economy, with development issues and the opportunity to have a New Zealander heading up the UNDP is a once in a lifetime chance.

So I conclude that just as we supported Mike Moore, Denis Marshall, SImon Upton and Don McKinnon to international jobs, we should also support the candidacy of Helen Elizabeth Clark to the position of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. There is a time to put partisan politics behind us.

I am sure there will be plenty of people agreeing and disagreeing in the comments! For those who think I have lost my marbles, well then consider that Angelina Jolie is is a UNDP Global Ambassador, so if Helen gets the top job that increases the chances Angelina may visit New Zealand 🙂

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