Staff crisis at master’s office

2008-01-18 00:00

The Pietermaritzburg Attorneys’ Association has formulated an emergency plan to overcome a critical staff crisis in the office of the Master of the High Court in Pietermaritzburg by offering professionals from local firms to provide basic services with effect from today as a short-term relief measure.

Chairman of the association and councillor of the KZN Law Society Ant Jenkins said in a statement the staff shortage — which is causing serious inconvenience to the public in Pietermaritzburg and Durban — resulted from the termination by the Justice Department of all temporary staff appointments nationally with effect from December 31, pending their replacement with permanent employees.

The attorneys’ profession regards it as "totally unacceptable" that the master’s office is unable to deliver a service of acceptable standard to the public and is taking the situation very seriously, he said.

He added the KZN Law Society is taking steps to address the issue with acting chief master and the minister of Justice in Pretoria in a bid to find an urgent solution.

National Justice Department spokesman Zolile Nqayi told The Witness yesterday that problems are being experienced countrywide. He confirmed they are the result of the termination of employment of some 600 staffers who were employed on contract basis and who are now applying for permanent posts.

"We are moving as fast as possible to resolve the matter and re-employ people on a permanent basis … more than half these people have already been interviewed and should be re-employed very soon," he said.

He said some could be in a position to start work by next week.

The department is required to follow correct legal procedures before appointing staff permanently, he said.

The Witness was told the staff crisis is so severe that attorneys have been told that there is no one available even to operate the photocopier.

The Pietermaritzburg Attorneys’ Association circulated an e-mail to all local law firms asking them to indicate by today if they would be prepared to offer the services of candidate attorneys to help alleviate the staff shortage at the master’s office in Pietermaritzburg.

How often they would be needed and what their duties would entail, would depend on the number of candidate attorneys offered. It is hoped that at least two candidate attorneys could be assigned to the master’s office daily, and depending on the efficacy of the system and future planning of the master’s office, it was felt the service might be extended to other areas as well later on, should this meet with the master’s approval.

The master’s office deals with the winding up of deceased people’s estates.

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