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By Citizen Reporter

Journalist


Deputy Minister not happy after surprise visit to Pretoria Masters Office

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery will be conducting more surprise visits to the country's Masters Offices.


The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery is not happy after he paid a surprise visit to the Master’s Office in Pretoria.

The inspection follows a previously unannounced visit to the Cape Town Master’s Office earlier this month.

The Master of the High Court is responsible for, amongst others, the administration of liquidations and deceased estates, as well as the registration of trusts.

Several legal and insolvency practitioners have expressed their concerns regarding serious problems with the Master’s Offices, key among them shocking service delivery and massive backlogs.

The department said service delivery was initially negatively affected by Covid-19 and then further exacerbated by a ransomware cyber-attack last year.

Jeffery and Deputy Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council Adv Kennedy Tsatsawane, conducted an unannounced oversight visit to the Pretoria Master’s Office on Friday, 28 January 2022 to see if any work was being done to stem the tide of complaints.

A number of factors were supposed to have been implemented to improve service delivery at the Master’s Offices.

For example, all staff members were required to be back in the offices, in line with Adjusted Alert level one regulations.
Since the IT system restoration, the Guardian’s Fund has been able to continue with payments of recurring maintenance.

A new fingerprint verification server was also restored and deployed to six Master’s Offices across the country. In addition, overtime pay was approved for all offices in a bid to address the backlogs.

But upon his visit, Jeffery was confronted with the same pain points that ordinary civilians have to contend with on daily basis.

While most South African’s resigned themselves to poor services as normality in the Master’s Office, Jeffery found this “not satisfactory.”

The Deputy Minister wanted to establish how well these offices were functioning, whether practitioners and the public were being served timeously and professionally, how long the queues were, whether existing backlogs have decreased and whether there have been improvements in terms of the issuing of Letters of Executorship and Letters of Authority.

“Although the queues were shorter than in Cape Town, queue management and directing members of the public to the correct sections could be improved,” read a statement from the Justice Department.

There were also complaints of staff shortages, equipment taking long to be repaired and an insufficient number of printers.

It was also difficult to understand the logic behind some of the processes being followed. As with the Cape Town Master’s Office, there were complaints of emails and phones going unanswered.

IT issues remain a challenge.

According to the statement, Jeffery “is in ongoing discussions with both the Chief Master and the Director-General of the Department as to finding solutions to the problems being experienced.”

“The Master’s Offices are responsible for the administration of liquidations and deceased estates, the registration of trusts and the administration of the Guardian’s Fund.

“This often means serving the most vulnerable members of our communities, such as the widowed, families who have lost loved ones and children and the elderly in particular,” said Jeffery.

Jeffery will continue unannounced visits throughout the country.

Compiled by Narissa Subramoney

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