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Deputy Minister conducts unannounced oversight visit to Pretoria Master’s Office

30 January 2022

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery, MP, conducted an unannounced oversight visit to the Pretoria Master’s Office on Friday, 28 January 2022. The visit follows a previous unannounced visit to the Cape Town Master’s Office earlier this month.

The Deputy Minister was accompanied by Adv Kennedy Tsatsawane, the Deputy Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, since a number of legal practitioners had raised concerns regarding service delivery in the Office of the Master countrywide.

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 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.

A number of factors were expected to improve service delivery at the Master’s Offices. All staff members 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 payments of recurring maintenance. The new finger print 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.

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 on 13 January 2021 and to the Pretoria Master’s Office on Friday.

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.

Regarding the Pretoria Master’s Office, the Deputy Minister did not find the operations satisfactory at all. Although the queues were shorter than in Cape Town, queue management and directing members of the public to the correct sections could be improved. 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 being unanswered. IT issues were also a challenge.

The Deputy Minister is in on-going 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.

These visits are part of our efforts to constantly keep monitoring service delivery at these offices. I will continue with unannounced visits at various Master’s Offices until we see a very clear improvement in service delivery and strict adherence to the Batho Pele principles,” said Deputy Minister Jeffery.

Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

Mr. Chrispin Phiri
Spokesperson: Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services
081 781 2261