FISA provides information and statistics showing how the breakdown of Masters Office processes has hindered crucial issues relating i.a. to winding up estates and registering trusts.
In late January 2022, the Master’s Office in Pretoria was visited by the deputy minister, Mr John Jeffery, and other representatives of the Department of Justice. Louis van Vuren, the CEO of FISA, said that this signaled the severity of the problems at the Master’s Office and he hoped that remedial steps would be taken as soon as possible.
Some of the problems over the past 18 months were outlined by Mr van Vuren at the FISA Conference in November 2021 as follows:
- the failure to declare Wills an essential service during COVID-19 lockdowns, at a time when deaths were rising and mortality issues were top of mind.
- the regular closure of many Master’s Offices around the country for COVID-19 de-contamination after positive cases among staff members
- problems with the government printer that led to the legal issues of the Government Gazette not being published for more than a month in March 2021
- no consistency of processes among the various Master’s Offices, also with little or no consequence management
- the suspension of Chief Director, Ms Tessie Bezuidenhout, with no clear reasons yet given for her and others’ suspension
- a ransomware attack on the Department of Justice’s IT systems. This attack impacted the Master’s web portal, leading to banks being unable to verify Letters of Executorship
- the closure of the Pretoria Deeds Office, on account of the electricity supply not being paid.
Mr van Vuren said: “The number of issues reported by FISA members has risen exponentially, in particular regarding deceased estates and trusts. The number of matters reported rose from 61 in 2019 to 376 in 2021. Some attorneys have even started taking legal action to force outcomes from the authorities.”
He gave the following additional statistics:
- FISA members’ “extremely poor” rating of Master’s service levels nearly doubled from from 18% in Q1 2018 to 33% in Q1 2021.
- From 28 May 2018 to 25 January 2022, the bulk of issues reported by FISA members were led by Johannesburg (26%) followed by Cape Town (21%), Pretoria (20%) and Polokwane (19%).
- In the same period, estates formed 68% of the matters handled while trusts made up 32%, with curatorships and other matters making up the balance.
Mr van Vuren concluded: “FISA does have a cordial relationship with the Chief Master, but there has been a lack of communication around some essential issues.
FISA will continue to act in a spirit of collaboration and be positive in developing a good relationship with the Master’s Office in the interests of its members and the public alike.”