13 January 2022
The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery, MP, conducted an unannounced oversight visit to the Cape Town Master’s Office earlier today.
The Deputy Minister was accompanied by Ms Janine Myburgh, the Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, since a number of attorneys have raised concerns regarding service delivery in the Office of the Master in most of the provinces.
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. Over the past few months many complaints and concerns have been directed to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development regarding service delivery issues and backlogs at the various Master’s Offices. Service delivery was initially negatively affected by Covid-19, and then further exacerbated by a ransomware cyber-attack on the Department last year.
In an attempt to find solutions and to engage with stakeholders, the Deputy Minister of Justice has been in engagements with legal practitioners and insolvency practitioners who have expressed their concerns regarding challenges with the Master’s Offices.
It should be noted that a number of factors were expected to improve service delivery at the Master’s Offices, for example, all staff were required to be back in the offices, in line with Adjusted Alert level 1 regulations and since the IT system restoration the Guardian’s Fund has been able to continue with the payment of recurring maintenance. The new finger print verification server was also restored and has so far been deployed to six Master’s Offices across the country. In addition, overtime pay was approved for all offices until 20 December 2021 in a bid to address the backlogs.
In order to see, first-hand, whether or not service delivery at the Master’s Offices has indeed improved, the Deputy Minister paid an unannounced visit to the Cape Town Master’s Office.
The Deputy Minister wanted to establish, amongst others, 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.
The Deputy Minister found that the situation at the Cape Town Master’s Office very concerning as the office was not operating efficiently. He engaged with practitioners and the public in the queue outside the building and identified a lack of queue management and the directing of clients as a serious problem.
“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.
The Master’s Offices simply have to function optimally. We owe it to the public to constantly keep monitoring service delivery at these offices,” said Deputy Minister Jeffery.
As the Master of the Cape Town Office was on leave, the Deputy Minister could not engage with her personally. The Deputy Minister will, however, be discussing the issues identified with both the Chief Master and the Director-General of the Department urgently.
Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
Mr. Chrispin Phiri
Spokesperson: Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services
081 781 2261