/ 12 June 2014

Manuel rejects reports about arms deal problems

Trevor Manuel's latest bugbear is the "short termism" of modern politics.
Trevor Manuel is expected to give evidence relating to Fikile Mbalula’s 2010 appointment as sports minister, which Manuel has publicly suggested the controversial Gupta brothers had influence over. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel on Thursday rejected claims that he said there were problems with the arms deal but they would not be uncovered.

Anna-Marie de Vos, for Lawyers for Human Rights, cross-examined Manuel at the Seriti commission of inquiry in Pretoria into the 1999 multibillion-rand arms deal about his meeting with former ANC MP and author Andrew Feinstein in November 2001. De Vos said Feinstein alleged Manuel had said: “We all know JM [former defence minister Joe Modise] … It is possible there was some shit in the deal. If there was, no one will ever uncover it, just let it lie.” 

“Do you admit that you said this to Mr Feinstein?” De Vos asked. “Mr Feinstein told this commission that he doesn’t recall this discussion,” Manuel replied. “It is his word against mine. Did he confirm to Ms De Vos that JM was Julius Malema or Jabu Moleketi? We could have been talking about anybody we knew. 

“I did not say those words, and I am under oath,” he said. Asked whether he still remembered his meeting with Feinstein, Manuel said: “I even remember what he ate that day.” 

“You asked to have lunch with Mr Feinstein. About that meeting, he wrote in his book: ‘I was encouraged by rumours that he had never supported the arms deal in Cabinet, primarily concerned with its impact on fiscal stability’,” De Vos said. 

“What do you say about the fact that there are rumours you did not support the arms deal in Cabinet? Newspaper articles quoted various people saying you were against the amount that was going to be spent.” 

Manuel said finance ministers were a special breed of people. 

“They don’t like parting with money. They argue the same whether it is the department of education, health, or anybody.” 

HIV-related quote attributed
De Vos asked Manuel about an HIV-related quote attributed to him in Feinstein’s book. “The issue that Mr Feinstein withdrew from his book is a suggestion that I addressed a secret meeting in Parliament. 

“Parliament does not have secret meetings. It is alleged I said we should not give ARVs [antiretrovirals] to people who are HIV positive because they are dying anyway. 

“That is so pernicious and evil, impossible to contemplate, and certainly not part of my DNA. It so offended me and every part of my being that I sought to have it excised from the book.” 

Manuel concluded his evidence. The inquiry was adjourned and will resume on a date to be announced. Former president Thabo Mbeki was scheduled to testify after Manuel but this was postponed because his mother Epainette died on Saturday. 

President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the multibillion-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