Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. File Photo: Oupa Mokoena

Johannesburg - The FFPlus intends asking Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to probe the financing of a series of business breakfasts hosted by The New Age (TNA), allegedly using public funds.

In particular, it wanted her to look at the use of public funds by public entities, Freedom Front Plus parliamentary spokesman Anton Alberts said on Thursday.

“The close and improper relationship between newspaper owners and the ANC... (and) the use of a private platform for image building... is an indication of possible corruption and fruitless expenditure...” he said in a statement.

The FFPlus would also ask Madonsela to probe politicians who participated in the TNA business breakfasts for improper ties and conflicts of interests with public enterprises and the newspaper.

The City Press reported on Sunday that some of the biggest state-owned companies were paying millions to bankroll the breakfasts.

According to the report, Transnet paid R17.5 million for 18 breakfast sessions and Eskom R7.2m for six sessions between November 2011 and last year. It was previously reported that Telkom paid R12m to sponsor 12 breakfasts in the 2012/13 financial year.

The SABC reportedly did not charge TNA to broadcast the events live on SABC2.

The New Age is owned by the Gupta family, a vocal supporter and funder of the African National Congress and of President Jacob Zuma.

Alberts said he wanted Madonsela to look at the regularity of Transnet and Eskom's sponsorships.

“Why would Transnet want to polish its image through such sponsorships, given the fact that Transnet's image has already been damaged by its own doing and obstinate actions against its pensioners?” he asked.

In September, BDLive reported that Transnet's pension fund had applied for leave to appeal against a high court ruling in favour of more than 900 former employees, many of whom were destitute and were short-changed when they were retrenched by the parastatal between 1996 and 1999.

This was the second high court ruling in two separate cases on the same matter against the Transnet pension fund.

BDLive reported that the fund would have to pay the former employees, who opted for a lump-sum payment on retrenchment Ä an estimated R25m excluding interest.

Transnet has paid R1.4 billion over the past three years to top up the meagre payments to fellow former fund members who opted for a monthly pension.

In 2006, the high court ruled in favour of 1800 former Transnet employees in an identical case, leading to a confidential out-of-court settlement.

Transnet reportedly paid the pensioners about R82m, BDlive reported.

Alberts said Eskom needed to be investigated for wasting funds while applying to the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) for an increase in electricity tariffs.

Eskom has applied to raise electricity prices by 16 percent a year over the next five years.

It claimed the increase was necessary to ensure it could provide the electricity needs of all South Africans.

Alberts said it was absurd that both Transnet and Eskom were trying to polish their image through sponsorships, because both were monopolies and public utility companies which were not supposed to make a profit.

“Polishing a company's image is only needed by companies in the private sector,” he said.

“Transnet and Eskom should rather concentrate on public service delivery and the welfare of their employees and former employees.”

The party was also considering laying charges against the SABC with the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) for breaking its licensing conditions to provide publicity in a balanced manner to all political parties.

“The majority of opposition parties were never given the (same) opportunity for publicity as those who had participated in the TNA business breakfasts,” said Alberts. - Sapa