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WHERE ARE THE INFORMATION CENTRES NOW THAT YOU NEED THEM?

15 January 2005

In a flimsy desire to please, valuable U.N. Information Centres were closed over a year ago with no adequate preparation for an effective substitute. Key centres in London, Paris, Athens, Madrid and Lisbon were closed hurriedly, almost abruptly. They had served over the years as the vanguard for defending the Secretary General and mobilizing support for the U.N. That is why the First General Assembly Session proposed the establishment of these centres. It was one of the first dozen resolutions of the newly created organization. These centres were not only the loudspeakers that addressed each local region with its own language and its unique approach; they were also a valuable feedback channel -- hinting of potential problems, highlighting prospective success and generally keeping lines open between the tower in Manhattan with public opinion elsewhere.

As we cautioned a year ago, without those vital centres, the Secretary General became a hostage to three or four aides at Headquarters and totally dependent on a permanent goodwill of helpful reporters and editors. That was too vain to be true or to last for too long. The self-serving claim in a subdued draft that the Centres in Europe could be closed because the current Secretary General was more popular there than their own national leaders was -- to say the least -- misleading. Now when that Secretary General is being savaged and in many cases unfairly maligned, the communications mechanism looks dysfunctional. An established set-up, whatever its weakness, was abolished but not replaced by any system; only haphazard bursts of mediocre responses from distant Headquarters. If the Centres were not efficient, reform them, revitalize them, replace them, regionalize them -- but effectively. But as matters stand, the Secretary General is vulnerable, and the United Nations is perceived to be in the worse shape ever.

All this is to suggest that you THINK AGAIN about the grave error of judgment. If a Regional Office is still required, think again how to make it work. THINK AGAIN how to breathe life into key communications operations abroad. Don't find excuses to cover up a bungled decision. THINK AGAIN INSTITUTIONALLY, NOT PERSONALLY. For in the end, we are all transient. What we want to maintain is the once proud name of United Nations.