Pretoria — No government minister took individual decisions during the procurement of arms, former president Thabo Mbeki told the Seriti Commission of Inquiry on Thursday.
"You've seen a lot of comment which seems to attribute particular government actions to individuals... which is not how our government works," he told the commission sitting in Pretoria.
"The decisions that came from the ministerial committee were not decisions taken by ministers as individuals."
Mbeki, who kept clearing his throat while answering questions from evidence leader Tshepo Sibeko SC, emphasised that any decisions taken by the ministerial committee were taken to Cabinet, which made the final decision.
He said it was a "strange notion" that important government decisions were made by individuals.
"At least no one did when I was in government."
The commission, chaired by judge Willie Seriti, was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the country's multi-billion-rand arms procurement deal in 1999.
Mbeki was president of the country at the time and Zuma his deputy.
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin attended the commission on Thursday. The three, who were part of Mbeki's Cabinet, sat behind the former president in the council chamber in the Sammy Marks building.
Mbeki emphasised that during the procurement of arms no decision was taken by either himself, the chair of the ministerial committee, or Zuma.
"All final decisions in regard to this matter were Cabinet decisions. Once a decision had been taken to procure... implementation was left to officials," he said.
Mbeki told the commission government decided at the time to re-equip the defence force and restructure it. This was also because of the history of oppression linked to the defence force.
"We were sensitive to the fact that it was necessary to reposition the defence force in the eyes of the people," he said.
Mbeki said government knew it had to spend a significant amount of money. However the budget had to be reduced, as expenditure needed to be balanced.
"One of the consequences of that was that we reduced quite sharply the expenditure for defence... it may very well be that we reduced it too radically and in the end it will have a negative impact on defence."
He said the defence force needed modern equipment which was in line with the technological advances at the time.
Mbeki completed giving his evidence-in-chief just after 11am.
After the tea break Paul Hoffman, representing retired banker and anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne, and Lawyers for Human Rights would cross-examine Mbeki.