All 15 Masters Offices around the country were shut down late Monday as the Specialised Investigating Unit (SIU) launched search and seizure operations, on the orders of Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola. This comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the SIU to investigate allegations of maladministration, corruption and fraud in the office of the Master of the High Court countrywide.
Masters offices which operate out of the courts have been mired in allegations of graft and corruption. Last year Business Day reported that 45,000 files had gone missing out of the Pretoria Masters office of the High Court.
In a statement issued yesterday, Lamola announced that the SIU was carrying out the search and seizure operations today in the Masters’ Offices across the country. “This investigation was necessitated by several allegations of maladministration and corruption and the Mpumalanga case wherein it is alleged that an official in the master’s amassed R1.7 million through fraudulent activities which further highlighted the need for an investigation of this nature.
“As a result, we will be shutting down all Masters’ Offices across the country to enable the SIU to gather, collate and retrieve information relevant to the investigation without any hindrance.”
The announcement said all offices of the Masters would be closed on Tuesday 4th February and would reopen on Wednesday 5th February 2020.
“We are fully aware that the Master’s Office plays a critical role in our communities, it is an office that works for the most vulnerable in our communities, it works for orphans, minor children, and the widowed. We do however request members of the public to postpone their intention to visit the Master’s Office just for a day.
“Matters which are urgent and pressing can be escalated to the head office via the local Magistrates Office for the necessary attention.”
The investigation will encompass maladministration in relation to administration of estates of deceased and insolvent persons; the protection and administration of the funds of minors, contractually incapacitated and undetermined and absent heirs, which have been paid into the Guardian’s Fund; 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.
“We want a Masters’ Office that will conduct its affairs with integrity in line with Batho Pele Principles and not squander resources meant for the poor and vulnerable in society,” said the statement.
According to Fin24, Lamola said the unit’s work was of immense importance to the nation, adding South Africans were fatigued by stories of corruption in the government.
Moreover, the effect of corruption in communities was rife for all to see, he said.
“If one considers the importance of the State Attorney to our national fiscus, this case is an important development in our anti-corruption jurisprudence. It also shows that the SIU is not afraid to start within the justice family, this proves that charity truly begins at home.”
Lamola acknowledged the department was cognisant of the fact that the SIU’s workload had quadrupled considering recent events. Damning revelations of corruption had came out about the Department of Correctional Services at the commission of inquiry into state capture, and the SIU had long finalised its investigation and submitted its report.
“Yet, no action was taken against any person as a result of this either. In the governing party’s lekgotla, it was emphasised that this is the year of implementation.
“In law enforcement, which is where you find yourselves, this should also be the year of action. Your investigations are not meant to gather dust in offices of high-ranking officials, they are meant to help citizens to have faith in the rule of law.”