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Mbeki denies arms deal hurt Aids patients

The former president was accused of excessive spending on arms, instead of ARVs.

Former president Thabo Mbeki seen during a break in proceedings at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry where he was testifying in Pretoria on 17 July 2014. Picture: Sapa.

PRETORIA - Former president Thabo Mbeki's handling of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV patients has been questioned at the arms deal inquiry.

He was testifying at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into alleged fraud and corruption in the multibillion rand procurement deal.

Mbeki's record on HIV and Aids has long been controversial, particularly due to the time it took government to begin dispensing free ARVs to patients.

He and then-health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were blamed for not implementing programmes to provide treatment.

Advocate Anna-Marie de Vos on Friday argued the decision to approve the arms deal would be considered irrational if it came at the expense of providing care to the country's citizens.

Mbeki denied this, saying the cost of ARVs was a global debate at the time.

He said the procurement did not prevent necessary expenditure on other socio-economic priorities because government balanced the needs of the country.

BRIBERY, UNDUE INFLUENCE

De Vos took aim at Mbeki on the apparent dispensation of bribes aimed at influencing those who made decision about what to buy and how much was spent in the deal.

The former president rubbished allegations that bribes, in the guise of commissions, were paid to secure the purchase of the more expensive Hawk fighter trainer aircraft.

The advocate delved into a grey area on the role of arms deal facilitators and referred to an investigation in the United States.

"The BAE has admitted that they paid commissions and let's call it what it is - bribes."

But the former president said there's nothing untoward about paying someone to influence decision-makers.

"It becomes a bribe when the person who is a decision-maker is then bought, in order to make particular decisions."

De Vos maintained the deal was suspicious because South Africa did not need the aircraft at the time and cheaper options were available.

Mbeki has now been excused from the stand.