Pretoria - A mandate by former president Nelson Mandela to his Cabinet to properly equip the defence force resulted in the 1999 arms deal, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry heard on Wednesday.
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel quoted two state-of-the-nation addresses delivered by the late former president.
Mandela said in 1999: “We wish to assure members of our defence force that the nation is behind them in their endeavours. We remain committed as ever to equip the force in a manner that ensures its effectiveness and adds value to the economy.”
After reading this extract, Manuel said: “The message from Mandela was abundantly clear and I think we had a very clear mandate of re-equipping, about affordability, peace and security, and sending a very clear message.”
Manuel said that in November 1998 Cabinet decided to enter into negotiations with preferred bidders in the strategic defence procurement package (SDPP), known as the arms deal.
“That decision committed government to investing approximately R29.9 billion in the SDPP. The intention was that the special defence account of the defence department would carry the cost of the SDPP,” Manuel said.
“At a technical level, the force design, force levels, armaments, equipment, and related capacity issues were and continue to be the preserve of the defence force.”
He said the National Treasury, then under his guidance, had a constitutional obligation to ensure that the funding intended for the SDPP was affordable and budgeted for.
Manuel's sworn statement to the inquiry states that Treasury played a critical role in ensuring that the defence department's budget did not increase beyond 1.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the term of the SDPP.
“It is important to note that the maximum of 1.7 percent of GDP provided for the defence department included financing for both the acquisitions and operations of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF),” said Manuel.
“It should also be noted that the 1.7 of GDP is significantly below the international norm, especially for developing countries.”
Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the multi-billion rand deal.
Government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy. - Sapa