KOFI Annan has been under tremendous pressure over the past year as Secretary General of the United Nations. Generally, in his public appearances, he is calm and measured almost to a fault, but yesterday in his year-end press conference in New York he allowed his feeling to get the better of him and lashed out at one of his most persistent critics, James Bone of The Times. Bone asked a question about a Mercedes-Benz which Mr Annan's son Kojo had imported into Ghana, allegedly using his father's diplomatic status to avoid taxes and duties. “Listen, James Bone,” said the Secretary General, “You've been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many months and years. You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving.” I have myself sometimes thought that Mr Bone's reporting on the UN was less than objective; on the other hand he has pursued the oil-for-food story with admirable tenacity and has rightly questioned some of the evasive answers which Mr Annan has given about it, especially in relation to his son's activities.

The precise nature of Kojo Annan's involvement with a company which secured a valuable contract under the oil-for-food programme was never quite clear and on one occasion the Secretary General admitted that his son had not given him a sufficiently full account of it. This was another of those conflict of interest issues in which appearance is as important as reality. Mr Annan's outburst was a serious mistake. At the end of the news conference the president of the UN Correspondent's Association told the Secretary General that James Bone had a right to ask a question and was not an embarrassment to his colleagues. Kofi Annan now has just one year left as Secretary General and it is inevitable that his authority will diminish as the year proceeds and specuation begins about his successor. There is a tradition of rotating the job among regions and Asia, which has not had a Secretary General since U Thant in the 1960s, therefore has a strong case. In a sense, of course, the United States has an even stronger case since it has never held the post. Bill Clinton?

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