1 December 2003

There must be something seriously wrong when a Secretary General blacks out the circulation of a press statement by one of his predecessors. And not just any predecessor. Javier Perez de Ceullar gave Kofi Annan his first second and third breaks at seniority. He appointed him Director of Budget (his first D-2), and head of Personnel Assistant Secretary General and, more importantly, sheltered him from bureaucratic snipers below and above. No doubt, Annan was uniquely qualified for these appointments. But it was that Secretary General who gave him the visibility and the opportunity to initiate contacts on reform with powerful circles in key member states. (He also helped Annan's Chef de Cabinet Iqbal Riza particularly during a career crisis, but that's another matter). And what was the offending statement about? It criticized a decision to close the U.N. Information Centres in Europe as a serious cultural, professional and political mistake. Well, join the club. Many professionals believe it is a hurried move lacking adequate preparation or thoughtful planning. It could also be a violation of General Assembly Resolution 13 of the First Session establishing these offices which could only be closed by another clear -- not backhanded -- resolution. At any rate, it is a considered opinion expressed in "Le Figaro" a leading French daily, not in a secret document. In previous administrations, if a critical article even by a minor reporter was not included in the feedback of headlines and press reports Annan would be among the first to discreetly raise the question, based on freedom of expression. Now, none other than a former Secretary General (and a ladder provider at earlier times of need), expressed himself on a serious issue without even mentioning names, and Annan's administration tries to block it -- in vain, of course. The glasshouse on the East River was abuzz with the statement and the quandary of those wondering what to do about it. Regrettably, an unprecedented mistake has been made. Regrettably, very regrettably, it has to be said that Kofi Annan should have insisted on airing the statement if not acknowledging it with an appropriately polite comment. But then leave it to his "team" to guarantee that he loses one more disappointed friend.