United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was elected on the premise that he would cut down the bloated bureaucracy of the organisation and institute reforms intended to make it more efficient and a lot less costly. He has wasted no time in setting about the task. Mr Annan's first move is to slash US$123 million off the 1998/9 budget and cut 10 per cent of jobs on the seriously overstaffed offices in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. The final aim of his 10-point plan is to reduce overall costs by one-third by 2001. Essential to that policy is cutting ludicrously high administrative costs which devour 38 per cent of the UN's annual budget. In reality, the new Secretary-General has little choice but to wield the knife. The UN is on the verge of bankruptcy, and is the target of considerable hostility from its most powerful member nation, the United States. Washington owes $1.3 billion in back payments which it refuses to honour until the UN is reformed. Even if his proposals meet the demands of the US Congress, there is still a call to reduce American dues by 20 per cent. Other countries will be required to make up the deficit and that is likely to meet with strong resistance. But if Mr Annan is true to his pledge to act independently, and with moral authority, he needs the support of all member nations. Too often in recent years the UN has appeared to act at the behest of the US. Washington used bullying tactics to get its way over the replacement of Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali. It now has the reformer it wanted heading the UN. The much-needed economies are under way, and there is no further justification for withholding payment. Mr Annan has a mammoth task ahead of him if he is to restore the UN's flagging reputation and effectiveness. Cutting wastage and improving efficiency is only part of the challenge. The technological age is turning the world into a global village, but it is fraught with civil wars and internecine strife - in the Balkans, in Africa and the Middle East. The UN should be working to eliminate starvation and third world poverty, and to protect the planet from environmental catastrophe. It cannot succeed in these tasks until Mr Annan is given the resources and the backing of the 183 member states. America has made its point, now it must set an example.