Net closing in SIU probe into Master’s Office
Cape Town - The net is closing on those who were found by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on the wrong side of the law in the affairs of the Office of the Master of the High Court.
The Office of the Master of the High Court is the subject of an SIU investigation after President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the corruption-busting body to probe allegations of maladministration, corruption and fraud in its country-wide offices.
In February 2020, the offices of the Master of the High Court were closed for at least two days to enable the SIU to gather, collate and retrieve information without any hindrance.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said in a parliamentary response that the SIU has referred eight cases to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for prosecution and two others for disciplinary proceedings to the department.
“Furthermore, the Special Investigating Unit has 23 potential cases that they intend to refer by April 2021,” Lamola said.
These included five disciplinary cases, seven criminal referrals to be submitted to the NPA, 10 referrals to be submitted to the professional bodies and one blacklisting.
Lamola revealed this when he was responding to parliamentary questions from ANC MP Nomathemba Maseko-Jele, who asked about the number of positive cases that have been found through the Special Investigating Unit’s investigations.
Asked about progress made to ensure the Master's Office has an electronic filing system to improve services, the minister said the department has developed trust and deceased online registration services, whose status are at advanced stages.
“The development of the trust online system is in its final stages, and piloting is planned to take place before the end of the 2020/21 financial year.
“The deceased development of the deceased online system is currently in the developing and testing phase,” he said.
Asked by DA MP Werner Horn about steps taken to improve the quality of the services rendered by the Master of the High Court, Lamola said the office was in the process of modernising the electronic systems to simplify processes, enhance the production capacity and to inhibit the culture of corruption through stricter controls and audit trails.
He also said in addition to the online deceased estates and trust registrations, it was enhancing the paperless estates and trusts registration processes.
“It is a convenient method which will allow people who want to report deceased estates to do so in the comfort of their offices, homes or at any other remote place.
“This approach will be a drastic move to reduce the influx of customers in the Master’s offices or service points. This will enhance access to the Master’s services in the country.”
Lamola also said they were improving of the financial system in the Guardian’s Fund.
“The office of the chief financial officer has put a system development plan in place to take us from manual to a financial system. The consideration of the successful tender for this system is currently underway,” he said.
There was also training of personnel to underscore change management so as to improve management accountability and improve understanding of the vulnerability of those served by the Master’s Office.
Lamola added that there were plans to effect legislation changes in the Insolvency Act, Trust Property Control Act and Administration of Estates Act to assist the transformation drive.
“While abuse of Trusts as a vehicle for corrupt activities has increased, legislative change will lessen opportunities for the abuse of trust entities. Other changes to legislation pertaining to the administration of deceased estates are also under consideration.”