Ronald Lamola. Picture: SOETAN/VATHISWA RUSELO
Ronald Lamola. Picture: SOETAN/VATHISWA RUSELO

A total of 45,000 trust files have gone missing from the Pretoria offices of the Master of the High Court, justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola revealed Thursday.

The minister’s answer to a parliamentary question feeds into concern about the functioning of several Master’s offices around the country which have been reported to be overloaded with huge backlogs.

It is obligatory to register trusts with the Master’s Office and if new files go missing it means that all the documents submitted to obtain the registration are lost, for example, the deeds of trust, wills, application forms, declarations, and copies of ID documents. Missing files means there is a delay in obtaining the letter of authority from the Master, which is required to set up a trust.

If approved files have gone missing it means that the Master has no record of the trusts established with his authority.

There are two types of trust that have to be registered with the Master’s Office: inter-vivos trusts, which are created between living persons; and testamentary trusts, which derive from a valid will of a deceased person.

Lamola said the 45,000 trust files have been missing since January with many of them being destroyed during a  storm that caused the roof of the storage facility to be blown off.

“The office, after removal of the files to Metrofile, has established a new database and, after diligent searches in the office, has now indicated that approximately 45,000 files are unaccounted for,” Lamola said.

“This has also led to a backlog as dummy files need to be opened. However, this is exacerbated by the fact that before 2013 files were not kept on an automated system and clients do not have copies of all documents to open dummy files.  

“The office, together with stakeholders, is trying their utmost best to address this backlog, and will be working overtime in the next three months.