She also said the United Nations must do a better job at combating the root causes of violent extremism and global insecurity.
Clark spoke to the Guardian in New York just days before the UN security council holds the first of three straw polls in which the 15 member states will begin to indicate their preferred candidates. At a time of unprecedented anxiety and fractiousness in politics – expressed in the UK’s Brexit decision to withdraw from Europe and the fear-mongering tactics of Donald Trump at the Republican national convention in Cleveland – her pitch for the top job in global governance is centering around her self-projection as a safe pair of hands.
Since 2009 she’s been head of one of the UN’s most important departments, the development programme UNDP. Her tough approach to management efficiency and cutting budgets has won her plaudits from the US administration, the UN’s main funder, but prompted grumbling from within the institution.
Foreign Policy magazine recently carried a probe into Clark’s management style that reported widespread disgruntlement among staff. The article talked of a “trail of embittered peers and subordinates” in UNDP and told the story of an official who was allegedly driven out by Clark in retaliation for the employee’s participation in a critical review of the agency’s response to human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
Clark denied that her reorganisation of UNDP had been an internal disaster. She said the number of employment tribunals brought by individuals was “tiny, a handful”.
“One of the hardest things is to change an organisation, as people have a vested interests in the way things are. But not to do it, knowing that the whole nature of funding is changing and you have to be much more adaptable, is not an option – you have to act in the interests of the organisation.”
Clark also dismissed the claims about the allegedly retaliatory treatment of the official: “I have no evidence of that”. She said there were legitimate criticisms of the way the UN dealt with Sri Lankan abuses during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, but said the conflict was officially declared over a month after she started at the helm of UNDP – “it was before my time”.
Being a self-avowed pragmatist, Clark knows better than to promise a radical restructuring of the UN security council with its 20th-century dominance of the five permanent members – US, UK, France, Russia and China. The secretary general has no power to make such changes that could only come from the P5 itself.
But she did put in an appeal: “I hope member states will agree to reform, as the world is clearly not what it was in 1945. You have to make the UN more effective. If we didn’t have it today we’d have to invent it, and now that we’ve got it we have to reinvent, renovate, renew, overhaul it.”
She pledged to clamp down on crimes committed by UN peacekeepers amid the billowing scandal around sexual exploitation and abuse by troops in the Central African Republic. “No trooper going into these situations should be under any allusions of what the expectations and standards are. The slightest whiff of a problem, stand the person down, investigate. Blue helmets are set up to protect people, not to prey on them.” (Colombo Gazette)