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Arms deal: Mbeki's claims challenged

Lawyers for Human Rights challenged Thabo Mbeki's claim that the arms deal was above board and constitutional.

Former president Thabo Mbeki is 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 - Lawyers for Human Rights, acting on behalf of arms deal opponents, challenged former president Thabo Mbeki's claim that the deal was above board and constitutional.

The former president was excused from the Seriti Commission of Inquiry yesterday.

He testified for two days about his role in chairing an inter-ministerial committee which approved the deal.

Advocate Anne-Marie de Vos said there is no record of a specific entry asking permission from Parliament to spend nearly R30 billion on arms.

"My clients will give evidence that there was no proper approval by Parliament and that it should have happened in view of the requirements in the Constitution."

Mbeki merely reiterated his belief that the deal was above board but in other instances, he simply side-stepped questions.

"This matter has been extensively covered and I certainly don't have anything to add to what they said."

The commission resumes on Monday with phase two of the hearings.

MBEKI GRILLED ON ARV EXPENDITURE

The former president's handling of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV positive patients also came under scrutiny at the inquiry yesterday.

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.

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.