The Master’s Offices which deal with liquidations and deceased estates has been in the media recently over poor management and service delivery. Chief Master advocate Martin Mafojane writes that the Master’s office is confident it has turned the corner.
The Master’s Offices are responsible for the administration of liquidations and deceased estates as well as the registration of trusts.
This often translates into us serving the most vulnerable members of our communities – the widowed and children in particular. In recent weeks, many media articles have reflected negatively on the services at Master’s offices around the country, particular those in Johannesburg, Gqeberha and Cape Town.
Some of the articles concentrated on the current Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigation into allegations of fraud and corruption against certain officials, but most focused on deceased estates administration, poor management and lack of service delivery by the Master’s offices.
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Nobody can deny the impact that Covid-19 has had on service delivery. Many government departments have either had to close their offices from time to time or have worked with a reduced workforce.
It is therefore no wonder that queues grew longer for reporting of estates at Master’s offices. The population concentration in Johannesburg and Durban also posed a serious challenge and a lack of support from service points in the Eastern Cape magistrates’ offices added to the pressure on the Gqeberha office.
Against this backdrop, emergency measures had to be put in place to improve and enhance service delivery to the public and new management methods were considered.
For example, a system of separating customers who come for different services rendered by the Master has been implemented.
At the end of last year, the Johannesburg office, while having some officials affected by Covid-19, decided to change its filing arrangements by bringing all files to a central and easy to access area.
This was to ensure that customer service is not delayed because a file is locked in a section where officials are out of office due to Covid-19 decontamination.
In addition, a new system has been piloted whereby our customers, starting with practising attorneys and banking groups, self-help themselves at our Johannesburg Master’s office.
The information allows the practitioner to populate the required data onsite, thus the reporting of the estate is expedited and the practitioner leaves the office with letters of appointment for those files. We have succeeded in expediting services there and plan to roll out this practice to the Gqeberha and Cape Town offices in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year.
In Pretoria, it is envisaged the self-help format will be implemented in May. What this entails is that an estate controller, who used to serve one person at a time, will then be able to assist three or four people at a time as they populate the reporting information by themselves.
A queue management format has also been used in the Pretoria Master’s office by issuing colour-coded cards for different types of services, which significantly speeds up service delivery.
We are determined to implement the government’s medium-term strategic framework on building a capable and ethical state. The need for this is all the more apparent in times of Covid-19 and as such we will ensure that members of middle management receive additional training during the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year on following a people-focused approach.
We have introduced online trust and deceased estates reporting. Much progress has been made in our automation drive with trust online registration, which will soon be piloted in Pretoria.
If all goes well, the rollout will commence by the end of June. This will allow for the speedy resolution of trust registrations and letters of appointment can be issued speedily.
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Similarly, the deceased estates online registration is following on the trust online system. It is also envisaged there will be a rollout of the Pretoria and Johannesburg model of onsite self-service to other bigger centres around the country.
We are confident that these initiatives will ensure better service delivery and enhanced access.
The Master’s offices are committed to serve the public and there is willingness to improve. Given these new interventions we expect to see significant results over the next few months as these measures yield better and improved services.
We are mindful of the unpredictable future and the challenging times we live in, but we are confident that we have turned the corner.
– Advocate Martin Mafojane is the chief master at the Master’s office.
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