Annan displays reform zeal by cutting UN flab

Under pressure from Washington to show his credentials as a reformer, the new Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, yesterday unveiled a 10-point plan to streamline the organisation by cutting jobs and phasing out departments.

Most notably, Mr Annan has ordered the elimination of an additional 1,000 posts from the United Nations bureaucracy from an already slimmed-down workforce of 9,000. He has set a 1998-99 budget, meanwhile, that will be $123m (pounds 76m) lower than the previous one.

By showing his willingness to cut what has traditionally been an ever- expanding budget, Mr Annan is hoping to quell carping from Capitol Hill that the UN soaks up too much money.

In a veiled appeal to the United States to respond by paying its $1.3bn in UN debts, he said: "We will deliver [on reform] and I hope that they will deliver their part of the bargain".

Other steps include merging three departments dealing with economic and social issues at UN headquarters into one and a commitment to revamp the secretariat's much-criticised information department.

The Secretary General is also asking for the consolidation of all UN agencies in beneficiary countries with the establishment of single UN premises and the appointment of one UN special representative per country. The European Union has lobbied hard for such a change.

The 10 points represent the most obvious and easiest elements of reform. But Mr Kofi's proposals for broader changes, which will have to be approved by the UN membership, are still to come. They are certain to be more problematic.

Mr Annan has promised to address these issues in a comprehensive package of proposals in July. They include expanding the Security Council membership, consolidating some of the myriad UN agencies around the world and re-jigging the formula for national contributions to the budget.

Yesterday's first steps were welcomed by Sir John Weston, the British ambassador. "It shows he has the reform bit between his teeth and we shall certainly be supporting them," he said.

Sir John also directed some comments at members of Congress who insist on setting standards, or so-called benchmarks, for reform before considering the payment of dues. "I hope these proposals get support from all quarters," he said, "and that we can all approve them instead of constantly making demands for more benchmarks".