Trevor Manuel calls arms deal probe an ‘extinct dodo’

2014-06-12 14:39

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel compared the investigation into the multibillion-rand arms deal to a dodo, saying “it was extinct”.

Manuel completed his testimony at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria today, where Lawyers for Human Rights again made a plea to the commission for documents, but the commission said it had given the lawyers all the documents they had requested.

Advocate Anna-Marie de Vos led some of Manuel’s testimony based on a book written by arms deal critic Andrew Feinstein.

She said Manuel was against the amounts that were going to be spent on the deal.

“There are articles that quoted various people saying you were against the amount that was going to be spent and that you put pressure on Cabinet to slash the defence’s spending to 1.55% of the gross domestic product at the time,” she said.

Manuel said it’s simply in the nature of ministers of finance that they don’t like parting with money, but that did not mean he was against the decision.

“We would have argued the same for any other spending,” he said.

Then De Vos moved on to a lunch that Feinstein had with the former minister, mentioned in his book, where they discussed the extensive work Treasury had undertaken before agreeing to financing. Feinstein at the time was part of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts and he was trying to investigate the matter.

“Feinstein says you said ‘We all know JM [Joe Modise]. It’s possible that there was some shit in the deal. But if there was, no one will ever uncover it, just let it lie. Focus on the technical stuff.’ Do you admit that you said it?” asked Vos.

“It’s his word against mine. JM could have been Julius Malema or anybody that we know,” Manuel replied.

Manuel was also asked why Cabinet did not return to Parliament to ask for permission to carry on with the deal.

“This needs to be seen in the context of separation of power. Parliament’s detailed involvement in acquisition was not needed. Parliament was involved at a pretty high level of strategic oversight,” said Manuel.

He also testified that the deal complied with section 217 of the constitution, but De Vos argued that it did not.

“Section 217 of the constitution deals with procurement … any deal should be fair, equitable, transparent and cost effective. Is your evidence that the system followed by Cabinet is in line with these?” asked De Vos.

“The system utilised and complied broadly with the section. What may be competitive in some instances may not be competitive in all instances,” said Manuel.

De Vos then asked him if he thought the deal was based on section 217, how was it possible that only one company (the contractor to provide the Gripen) received a score based on the financial evaluation.

“Was there fair procurement? How can anybody say that it was fair when only one of the bidders had a financial package before the committee?” asked De Vos.

“I bear no knowledge of technical details. There were filters, so by the time it reached the executive it would have gone through those. Part of this was the financial value and the other is military value. I might know about finance, but I won’t pretend that I have the technical know-how to determine and select [military equipment],” said Manuel.

He concluded his testimony after arms deal critic Terry Crawford-Browne’s questions were denied numerous times by Judge Willie Seriti as the line of questioning was regarded as baseless and a court had already thrown his case out.

“The submission I made yesterday, is that this matter is truly like the dodo, now extinct,” concluded Manuel.

The commission will resume at a later stage when it has confirmed when the last witness, former president Thabo Mbeki, will be able to testify.

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