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4 steps to 'urgently address' deeds office backlogs

Property24 16 Aug 2020

The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (ALRRD) Ms Thoko Didiza, MP has met with the Chief Registrar of Deeds and all provincial registrars to put a concrete plan in place to address backlog challenges in all Deeds offices. The ALRRD Minister’s meeting follows numerous complaints from various stakeholders regarding backlogs and constant closure of deeds offices. Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier called on Didiza to "urgently intervene in the repeated and at times unnecessary closure of the Cape Town Deeds Office".  Maynier cited the “considerable negative impact” this was having on the property and real estate industry in the Western Cape and believed that the deeds office was not implementing the necessary Covid-19 health and safety measures in line with either the National Department of Health or the Department of Employment and Labour. ALRRD has confirmed the following measures as a "matter of urgency to ensure that deeds offices address the entire backlog while continuing to attend to new lodgements": 1. Examination of Deeds All examiners will be allowed to do examination of documents at home in order to fast track the examination of documents. Registrars have the authority to manage this and should do so, taking all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the documents as well steps to avoid fraudulent transactions. 2. Re-arrangement of offices All Deeds Offices will re-arrange their offices to ensure social distancing and safety of staff, even those with co-morbidities. Labour and staff will be part of the decision-making process to ensure inclusivity and ownership of this process. 3. Tools of trade All officials to be provided with all relevant tools of trade to allow them to work from home. However, it is understood that in some instances this may not be possible due to various factors such as where offices are in rural areas and where it is not safe to do so. Registrars to ensure that despite these challenges service delivery continue unhindered. Upgrading of Deeds offices IT system to respond to the 4th Industrial Revolution to be prioritised despite budget cuts due to COVID-19. 4. Closure of office The department to ensure that closure of deeds offices is minimised and it is done under extreme circumstances. Various options will be undertaken, which are not limited to ensuring that decontamination is only done in affected areas and not in the whole building and also to ensure that all officials continue to work while at home. “We will ensure that all health and safety measures as stipulated by the departments of Health and Employment and Labour are adhered to," says Minister Didiza. Echoing Maynier’s concern that the Cape Town Deeds office was not adhering to health safety measures, Imkita Ntshanga, chairperson of the Western Cape branch of the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP), says “Every business knows what precautionary measures are required for the safety of their employees. PPE equipment is readily available at almost every store and there is an array of options that can be adopted and implemented in the workplace. The deeds office closure severely impacts the earnings in commissions on which agents relied, new home owners who could not gain access to their homes and indeed all participants in the economy of property sales. “There is absolutely no practical understanding of the multiplier effects of their slow-to-stagnant decision making or the role they should be playing in the economic ecosystem," says Deon van Zyl, chairperson of the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF), who has questioned the extended processing times given to Environmental Authorisation and Waste Management Licence applications as well chosen online systems and the use of "old and disproven technology, leaving parties wanting to engage with government at their wit’s end".   "These and many other issues will be taken up by the WCPDF in a series of “In Conversation”  online engagements it will be hosting between the public and private sector over the next four months, with the first two to be addressed by Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde and National Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille," says Van Zyl. While Minister Didiza says she appreciates the important role deeds offices play in the property sector and in the recovery of the economy post COVID-19, the "safety of our employees will not be compromised and we will all work very hard to address backlog as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, which affected the operations of these offices".   The minister has urged all stakeholders to work together to ensure smooth running of all deeds offices in the country.

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