Why Helen Clark will be good for the United Nations

This morning an announcement that myself and many others had hoped for became reality: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, current head of the United Nations Development Agency wants to be the next Secretary General.

Here is an incredible opportunity for New Zealand to reinforce its credentials on the world stage, and possibly no one better equipped in Oceania. There is no one better equipped to do this job in New Zealand than the former Prime Minister. Her Curriculum Vitae is truly outstanding.

Prior to entering Parliament Ms Clark was a lecturer at University of Auckland. In 1981 she lead some protesters against the Springbok Tour.

Ms Clark entered Parliament as Member of Parliament for the electorate of Mount Albert in 1981. During the Labour Government of David Lange (1984-1990), she was Minister of Conservation and then Health and Labour. During the later part of the Lange/Palmer Government she was Deputy Prime Minister. In 1993 she deposed the then Leader of the Labour Party, and then Leader of the Opposition Mike Moore. Although she was seen by some as a betrayer, her steady stewardship of Labour lead them to win the 1999 General Election. As Prime Minister Ms Clark was also Minister of Arts, and responsible for the intelligence agencies. Three terms later, despite being accused by many including myself of being an unspectacular leader, her place in New Zealand history was assured as the first Labour leader to govern for three consecutive terms and presiding over a period of impressive stability.

Since her defeat to the current Prime Minister John Key, she has headed up the United Nations Development Programme. This is an agency which has often courted the limelight in United Nations and international politics for largely the wrong reasons. With a budget of several billion dollars under the watch of its director, this is the third largest and most powerful position in the United Nations, with only the Deputy Secretary General and Secretary General being higher.

I hope New Zealand fully supports Ms Clark for this position. The current Prime Minister John Key has indicated his full support and was a strong proponent for her initial election in 2009.

She has some tough foes to dispatch. Across the Tasman Sea, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is said to be keen on the job. In Europe there are several candidates from the east saying that Eastern Europe’s time has come – perhaps it has, but perhaps so has that of Oceania (at least I cannot think of anyone from this part of the world having hold that office before). It would be an amazing opportunity to put Oceania on the world map and address some of the issues facing the Pacific Island nations, Papua New Guinea and the central Pacific.


Ms Clark has a tough job ahead if she does get the role. The Development Programme has struggled with numerous controversies, which she has worked steadily to contain, such as financial irregularities in North Korea and the suspension of disarmament programmes in Uganda caused by internal violence. Heading up the United Nations at large will be a whole different ballgame, as current Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon can attest. Ending the conflict in Syria, making the peace keepers a more effective force, improving perceptions that the United Nations at large is more than a tiger on paper whilst encouraging overdue reform of how the Security Council and the General Assembly work are just a few of the challenges – getting even half of this done would be a colossal achievement.

But before then we need to get Helen Clark into the Secretary General’s role as she is the best person in Oceania for the job and as capable as any of her challengers.

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