A high-level panel named last year to study the African Union's operations has concluded that the organization is plagued by waste, corruption, weak leadership and an unhealthy organizational culture. VOA's Peter Heinlein has details from A.U. headquarters in Addis Ababa, where foreign ministers are gathering to prepare for a summit of African leaders.

African leaders asked for the high-level audit report last July at their meeting in Accra, Ghana, and named a 13-member panel led by former U.N. Undersecretary-General Adebayo Adedeji of Nigeria.

The panel's 200-page report was distributed this week during preliminary sessions for the A.U. summit that begins Thursday in Addis Ababa. A copy obtained by VOA is scathingly critical of the organization's top leadership. It describes the relationship between Commission Chairperson Alpha Omar Konare and other commissioners as 'dysfunctional'.

The authors are critical of what they call an 'unhealthy organizational culture', crippled by inadequate leadership and weak management systems.

The panel found serious flaws in the operation of several A.U. bodies, and concluded that the overall management of financial resources is in need of a complete overhaul. The report singles out the African Commission on Human and People's Rights for special criticism, saying that out of a $1.1 million allocation for 2006, only $47,000 was spent on its core mandate.

The audit report was also critical of the A.U. dependency on foreign financing for its operations. Foreign governments currently contribute a substantial amount of the A.U. budget. The panel recommends a tax on airline tickets to finance operations, and urges tough measures against member states who fail to pay their assessed contributions. Twenty one of the 50-plus A.U. member states are currently in arrears on their dues.

The pre-summit meetings are progressing slowly. The opening session of the foreign ministers conference Sunday had to be delayed six hours because earlier meetings scheduled for Saturday had not been wrapped up.

Delegates are likely to choose a successor to Chairman Konare at this week's meetings. Among the leading candidates in the running are Gabon's foreign minister and former president of the U.N. General Assembly, Jean Ping, Sierra Leone's Abdulai Conteh, and Zambia's ambassador to Washington, Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika.

The theme of the summit is "Industrial Development in Africa", but issues of industrialization are being overshadowed by discussions about conflicts in Somalia and Darfur, and the political unrest in Kenya. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to address the opening session of the summit on Thursday. He is also scheduled to have talks about Darfur on the summit sidelines with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.