Trevor Manuel defends arms deal spending

The former finance minister says Nelson Mandela asked government to equip the defence force affordably.

Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN.

PRETORIA - Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel says spending in the so-called arms deal was within the Parliament-approved budget and no separate money was allocated for the purchase.

The 1999 procurement has been widely criticised, with allegations of fraud and government officials benefiting from the deals made, leading to the formation of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry.

Testifying before the commission for the first time today, Manuel defended the decision to procure the arms, saying the spending was in fact three percent less than what the apartheid government had spent on defence equipment.

Manuel said procuring the arms was a policy decision based on a Constitutional mandate.

"At no point did defence expenditure - inclusive of the armaments - rise above 1.7 percent of gross domestic product," he said.

"It's a fundamentally important point in the context of what president Mandela asked of us; equip the defence force but ensure it's affordable."

Manuel sounded confident when he gave reasons why he signed off loan agreements and other money to purchase the equipment and explained that while he regularly monitored and reviewed expenditure on the procurement process, the defence department was responsible for choosing the actual equipment.

Manuel says the Treasury did not have the required skills to assess the type of equipment that should be purchased.

Lawyers for Human Rights have now asked for a postponement so they can familiarise themselves with the contents of Manuel's 30-page statement.

Manuel's prepared statement, on which his evidence was led, was apparently only made available to the commission this morning.

He is expected back tomorrow when the lawyers will cross-examine him.