Master’s Office clean up ‘long overdue’

Thirteen senior managers and other officials in Master’s Offices have been suspended at the weekend.

Thirteen senior managers and other officials in Master’s Offices have been suspended at the weekend.

Published Apr 30, 2024


Describing it as a nest for corruption, several legal groups have appealed to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to move with speed in acting against those found guilty of crippling the Master’s Offices across the country.

This follows the suspension of 13 senior managers and other officials in Master’s Offices in courts in light of an investigation into allegations of maladministration and financial irregularities.

The department at the weekend confirmed that several officials were suspended from their positions across various high courts in South Africa.

They include the Masters of the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, and the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, along with their respective deputies and assistants.

An accounting clerk and estate controller of the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, the Master of the High Court Free State, Deputy Master of the High Court Free State, and Master of the Limpopo Division of the High Court in Polokwane have also been suspended.

Their suspensions emanate from a wide-ranging probe into the financial affairs of the Master’s Office by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which started in 2020.

In terms of Proclamation R7 of 2020, the SIU investigated allegations of maladministration in connection with the affairs of the Master’s Office.

These related to functions of the Master’s Office, including the administration of estates of deceased persons; the winding up of estates of insolvent persons; protection and administration of the funds of minors, contractually incapacitated and undermined and absent heirs, which have been paid into the Guardian’s Fund.

It also included the supervision of the administration of companies and close corporations in liquidation; the safeguarding of all documentary material in respect of estates, insolvencies and liquidations; the processing of enquiries by executors, attorneys, beneficiaries and other interested parties; and the appointment of executors, trustees, curators and liquidators.

The probe also looked into “any losses or prejudice suffered by the Master’s Office or the State as a result of such maladministration”.

The alleged remuneration of fictitious officials or employees at the Master’s Offices; appointment of service providers; alleged incurring and unauthorised, irregular or fruitless or wasteful expenditure in respect of travel, subsistence and accommodation costs for officials were also part of the investigation.

The Department of Justice said: “Other incidents of maladministration which were subjected to investigations include the appointment of officials or employees at the Master’s Offices in a manner that was contrary to applicable legislation; as well as alleged irregular procurements.”

“The department also commissioned a forensic audit report whose findings, as well as those of the SIU, prompted consequence management.

“The department has, with immediate effect, placed 13 senior managers and other officials on precautionary suspensions pending the outcome of investigations into allegations of financial irregularities and maladministration in the affairs of the Master of the High Court and Family Law Services.

“The internal departmental investigations are continuing, including in the provincial offices, and further actions will be taken where there is evidence of wrongdoing.”

Other officials were appointed to act in the positions of those suspended “to ensure business continuity of service delivery,” the department added.

“Arrangements are being made for swift disciplinary processes to unfold without any undue delay.”

The latest development comes at a time when the Master’s Office has faced criticism for delays in the provision of its services, slow systems, loss of clients’ documents, poor infrastructure, a backlog of services and long queues.

Reacting to the suspensions, Black Lawyers Association (BLA) president Nkosana Mvundlela, on Monday said: “We welcome the decision by the Department of Justice to clean up its house (in relation to) certain allegations of staff acting contrary to what they are supposed to do or conducting (themselves) in an unlawful manner. Investigation is necessary to find if there is wrongdoing or exonerate them, after that there would be better service provision for members of the public.

“We believe the department would have taken a correct decision to make sure members of the public are protected from such possible unlawful (conduct) if the same exists.

“In addition to that support, in the seat of people suspended, we call on the department to ensure offices are not negatively affected. These are public service entities.

“The Office of the Master is extremely important – it affects people dealing with issues of their deceased, they have no other place they can go.

“We encourage the department to ensure they deal with these issues swiftly and ensure members of the public are not prejudiced.” Mvundlela said.

Raphael Brink of the Black Conveyancers Association (BCA) said: “The Master’s Office has for too long been a nest for corruption and the department must be congratulated for embarking on this step.”

Cape Times