Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has dismissed a suggestion that the master’s office was dysfunctional.
Lamola was responding to a parliamentary question from DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach, who asked him about plans to turn the situation around.
Breytenbach said master’s offices around the country continued to be dysfunctional to a degree that was unacceptable.
She said all offices have ceased to function, with the waiting time for essential documents now reaching months.
The master’s offices deals with deceased estates, bankruptcy matters, registration of tests, curatorships and the Guardian’s Fund.
“Performance on all of the above is measured against targets set in terms of the masters’ annual performance plan.
“The statement that all the master’s offices are dysfunctional and have ceased to function is wide as there are no specifics provided in order for the master to respond to the same,” he said.
Lamola indicated that in a bid to improve service delivery, the master’s branch together with the ICT branch have been developing an online deceased estates solution to address challenges experienced by clients when reporting an estate with the master.
“The online deceased estate system seeks to enable South African citizens to submit their deceased estate applications online, giving the user the ability to register an estate from the comfort of their home or office without the need physically to visit any master’s office or service point of the master.
“This system was already successfully piloted in three master’s offices in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, and it is envisaged that it will be launched into live production during October 2023 in five master’s offices in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria and Thohoyandou.”
However, Lamola noted that the master’s offices were hard hit by challenges such as load shedding, struggling to obtain files from off-site facilities, under-staffing, budget cuts and constant network challenges.
His response to the parliamentary question follows a presentation made by the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) on the delivery of services by the master’s offices to the portfolio committee on Friday.
LSSA’s Hussani Goga told the justice and correctional services portfolio committee that the master’s office was not functioning as it should for a number of years and the Covid-19 pandemic and load shedding exacerbated matters.
Goga said they had previously attempted to engage with Lamola, his deputy John Jeffrey, the department and the Office of Chief Justice with a view to find a meaningful solution with little or no success.
He cited a lack of leadership, lack of service delivery, correspondence being unanswered, email correspondence not being utilized, phones not being answered and officials not being reached.
Goga said other challenges were files being misplaced, queues not sufficiently managed, vacancies not being filled, allegations of bribery and directives issued without consultation and no transparency on insolvency applications.
“The LSSA recently received a complaint from an attorney that the master’s office has not responded and no one on the master’s escalation list has acknowledged receipt of any of the follow-up emails, including the office of the chief master.
“The attorney claims to have made over 20 calls and the correspondent for having weekly attended the master's office. End result: no progress.” Goga said.
The portfolio committee plans to invite the department, the masters’ office and the justice ministry to a meeting to discuss the matters raised by LSSA.