14/07/2011. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela briefs the media on her investigation into complaints and allegations of maladministration, improper and unlawful conduct by the Department of Public Works and the South African Police Service relating to the lease of office accommodation in Durban. Picture: Masi Losi

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has decided to conduct a preliminary investigation into complaints of tender irregularities with the Gauteng e-toll system, her office said on Friday.

She would investigate allegations of an “improper relationship” between Swedish companies involved in the arms deal and the Austrian company Kapsch TrafficCom, her spokeswoman Kgalalelo Masibi said in a statement.

“In this regard the public protector will be able to determine among others whether no other institution is investigating similar allegations,” she said.

“Thereafter, the public protector will determine whether the allegations merit a formal investigation.”

This followed complaints lodged by Democratic Alliance MP Jack Bloom, director for the Institute for Accountability in SA Paul Hoffman and the recently resigned chief executive the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) Nazir Alli.

Bloom welcomed the announcement on Friday evening.

“I hope that this is a first step towards a wider investigation into all the contracts involved in the e-tolling,” he said.

“We need to know if any high-level politician was unjustly enriched in this process.”

The Sunday Times reported last weekend that politically connected companies stood to benefit from the e-tolling contracts.

According to the newspaper, these included Tsebo Holdings, South Africa's largest catering company, 15 percent of which was owned by Nozala Investments and 15 percent by Lereko.

It reported that Nozala was headed by Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane, a trustee of the African National Congress front company Chancellor House, and that Lereko was owned by former environment minister Valli Moosa and Chancellor House trustee Popo Molefe.

Other companies which stood to benefit were Vodacom and GijimaAST, of which was 35 percent owned by billionaire businessman Robert Gumede, which won the two largest sub-contracts.

The 33 sub-contractors were signed up by the electronic toll consortium (ETC), after it was awarded the main R6.6 billion contract by Sanral in 2009. The ETC is responsible for collecting e-tolls.

The Sunday Times also reported that a major beneficiary was Kapsch TrafficCom, which owned 40 percent of the main contractor.

The company confirmed to the newspaper that, until 2000, it was owned by arms company SAAB, which admitted in June to paying bribes of more than R24 million to ensure it was picked to supply Gripen jets to South Africa in the arms deal.

Alli resigned on Monday, just over a week after the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) was granted an urgent interdict to stop the launch of the system.

The project has since been put on hold.

Reasons were not given for Alli's resignation. He will remain in office until June 3. - Sapa