Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has approved a rescue plan for the Master’s Office, which has been plagued with backlogs and inefficient processes across the country.
The Minister’s plan includes increasing the number of matters which must be finalised in four months from 65% to 80%. Currently the annual plan has 65% as a target.
The rescue plan seeks to eliminate the backlog, decrease the number of customer complaints in the next four months, increase accessibility to services and increase communication with citizens and stakeholders.
Ministerial spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said to fulfil these obligations, the minister has approved a rescue plan that will implement an interim strategy to improve digitisation and technology upgrades, human resource capacity, process standardisation, transparency and anti-corruption measures as well as promote public and legal community engagement.
“The Master’s Office must live up to its public obligation to handle deceased estates, liquidations, trust registrations, curatorship and the guardian in funds, in line with our collective commitment to justice,” he said.
Phiri said the Master’s Office is “steadfast in its efforts to improve service delivery and turnaround times”, adding that an online deceased estates registration system was recently developed to address challenges clients are encountering when reporting a deceased estate case.
“The deceased estate registration system enables members of the public to submit their deceased estate applications online, giving the users the ability to register an estate from the comfort of their homes or offices without the need to physically visit any Master’s Office or service point,” he said.
According to Phiri, this system has been operational since October 10 at five offices, including Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria and Thohoyandou.
He said the system would be implemented in all the other offices soon.
Phiri said in an effort to broaden access to services, the Master’s Office has also made available information kiosks at service points for members of the public who may not have data to access the deceased estates online registration system.
“The new system will contribute to queue reduction at our service points and improve on the turnaround times for resolution on the deceased estates matters,” said Phiri.
The plan comes as frustrations with the Master’s Office were beginning to boil over due to inefficiencies.
Durban resident Grant Harbison, 59, said his wife died in July 2021 and he began winding up her estate in September of the same year.
Harbison said his lawyer had sent countless emails and made many calls, but the Master’s Office was extremely slow.
“All they have to do is look at the documents and send them off. There is no system, no organisation and so much red tape,” he said.
Just as everything was going well and all documents were filed and approved, he said they were dealt another blow when the person dealing with the estate at the Master’s Office died.
“Someone else has to take over the case and review it. I’m starting to get worried and very nervous because my funds are depleting and there is no way of knowing when the estate will be finalised,” said Harbison.
An estate administrator from Gauteng, who requested not to be named, said she is at her “wits’ end”.
The administrator, who has over five decades of experience dealing with the Master’s Office, said calls are not answered and there was no response to correspondence and emails.
“I have now been waiting months for letters of executorship, query sheets to liquidation and distribution accounts etc. The administration of estates is a nightmare,” she said.
She said another issue, which cannot be blamed on the Master’s Office, is the fact that they have to utilise the Post Office, which has its own service delivery issues.
“In one instance I was waiting for a letter of executorship in Port Elizabeth and they told me it was ready for collection in Pretoria.”
The SA Women Lawyers Association (Sawla) in KwaZulu-Natal said its members work closely with the Master’s Office and they were aware of the issues it was experiencing. Sawla has encouraged a stakeholder meeting between the Master’s Office and the private sector to jointly work on solutions.
“We work hand in glove with the Department of Justice and we are willing to assist with stakeholder meetings.
Rather than having continuous problems, we want to come to the forefront and work on solutions to reduce the backlog, get admin going and assist to expedite the processes.”
The justice department said people who experience issues with the Master’s Office should make use of the Master’s Complaints process which is explained on its website: https://www.justice.gov.za/master/contacts.htm