South African Board for Sheriffs Annual Report and Budget

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Justice and Correctional Services

23 May 2007
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Meeting report

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 May 2007
SOUTH AFRICAN BOARD FOR SHERIFFS ANNUAL REPORT AND BUDGET

Chairperson: Ms F Chohan-Khota (ANC)

Documents handed out:
South African Board for Sheriffs abridged presentation
SABFS Chairperson's speaking notes
Position paper by the South African Board for Sheriffs
Proposed Amendments

SUMMARY
The South African Board for Sheriffs presentation looked at compliance and complaints handling and training, their financial report, the Board’s own revenue for sustenance, Departmental support, the outcome of the audit, a race and gender profile, an analysis of vacancies, and some suggestions for strengthening the legislative framework. A report-back was given on previous areas of concern.

The Committee was heartened by the follow-up by the South African Board for Sheriffs in rectifying concerns the Committee had raised in its 2006 meeting with the Board. It was a step forward in that the Board had cooperation from the sheriffs' offices. The crucial point about access to the profession was discussed but ultimately what the Committee believed was needed was to professionalise this area of business by means of a uniform introductory course for sheriffs. They needed this as some sheriffs had no knowledge of what was required of them. The Board was requested to bring audited financial statements to their next meeting.

MINUTES
Ms Ntombizodwa Nduna, Chairperson, South African Board for Sheriffs (SABFS) introduced her delegation as Mr V Maluleko, Deputy Chairperson, SABFS, Mr Cheslyn America, Executive Manager, SABFS, Ms Veliswa Baduza, Executive Director, SABFS, Advocate J Skosana, Chief Director, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Aubrey Mali, Ward Councillor, NMBM, Ms F Laing, Sheriff, SABFS, Ms B Mantane, Attorney, State Attorney, Mr Makwetu, Board Member, SABFS, Ms C Mabuza, Board Member, SABFS, Mr T Seboka, Board member, SABFS, Mr Fourie, Board Member, SABFS.

Ms Zodwa Nduna (Chairperson) introduced the SABFS presentation and then handed over to Mr Cheslyn America, Executive Manager, SABFS, who gave the presentation which focused on compliance & complaints handling and training, a brief financial report, the Board’s own revenue for sustenance, Departmental support, the outcome of the audit, a race and gender profile, an analysis of the vacancies, a policy/legislative review to improve the efficiency of the Board, and some suggestions for strengthening the legislative framework (see document).

The SABFS responses to issues raised in 2006 by the Committee were:
- The first matter was a request that sheriff offices stay open during lunch time. He said that they had sent a circular and most sheriffs, the Johannesburg Central office in particular, had responded that they were undertaking to remain open during lunch hour.
- On the matter of fines, he said that either they had been too low or when they imposed them they were difficult to recover but he was happy to inform them that in 2006 they had raised 174 000 compared to the previous year's 50 000 and they had gone further in their regulatory capacity of fines.
- On the issue of the non-service of documents in instances where the defendant is not resident at the address, they had formulated a position paper which they had given members.
- And on the last issue of finance, the Board's biggest challenge was that they were financially not sustainable but they were working on improving the position by proposing amendments. Their budget came from the sheriffs' fees, the fidelity fund and their investments but they were working with the Department in order to secure some form of support. He also showed the Committee the Board’s organogram.

Mr Maluleko spoke on disciplinary action for the sheriffs. He said that most of the complaints against the sheriffs were around the trust account and the Board had now firmly in place a policy that dealt with disciplinary measures. Most of the SABFS committees had detailed strategic plans in place and the finance committee’s one was to increase the Board’s financial position.

Another big issue was training especially around the question of how they were going to fulfill their obligations with the limited resources they currently had. The challenge was that most of the 3 million went into operational costs but he hoped that the next time they came before the Board the situation would have changed drastically.

Adv J Skosana (Chief Director: Court Services: Department of Justice) noted that previously they did not have reliable information on the composition of the sheriffs but they could now report that: 74% were white, 26% were black and 30% were females. There were 536 sheriff offices and 452 served the magistrates courts whilst 84 served the high courts. They also discovered that 30% of the sheriffs were simultaneously attorneys and this normally led to a conflict of interest.

Of the 546 vacancies, 404 positions were filled and the 142 vacancies were being serviced by the existing sheriffs. The only problem with this was that it perpetuated gender and racial imbalance. They had also analyzed the 142 vacancies: 21 were in large self sustaining offices which were above the 1.5 million threshold. There were 89 smaller offices in areas that generated below the R1.5 million threshold and these were mainly rural areas and former black townships. The objective was to combine the smaller offices so that they were left with 28 vacant posts. The other 26 vacancies where in areas where there was a different sheriff for the magistrate court, the high court and the supreme court. The deputy sheriff offices were a dismal picture with 834 deputy sheriffs broken down to 563 white, 271 black and 176 women. They were looking to increasing the number of sheriffs in Sandton which generated over R7 million per annum and the areas that were up for competition were Sandton which would have 3 sheriff offices, the same for Randburg and 2 for Krugersdorp.

The Board was looking into harmonizing the appointment of sheriffs with government policy, the rules board was working on new rules that would be used through out the entire court system and they were looking into areas such as how to stop multiple attachments. The office of the deputy sheriff was becoming problematic in that the sheriff tended to appoint his own family members as deputy sheriffs - so it ended up being a family business. This went against their goal of transforming the profession to represent the demographics of the country. They also wanted to broaden the scope of the profession. They were looking into alternatives for small offices that generated low volume. This was because even combining the offices was not enough to generate higher work load and some offices were very widely spaced such as in the Northern Cape so efficiency was compromised.

Discussion
Ms C Johnson (ANC) asked if there was a way they could find a mechanism to fast track people from the learnership program into the office of the deputy sheriff to stop making the sheriff office a family business which was currently the case.

Mr Fourie replied that grooming people from the learnership program for the sheriffs office was one of the intentions of the Board. They were already conducting a learnership program in Cape Town and it was the Board’s preference to have deputy sheriffs that have undergone the learnership program. They needed to solve that problem by changing the Act so as to ensure that the Board had some form of control over the appointment of the deputy sheriff. The learnership program was part of their commitment and the way of the future.

The Chair remarked that the best way around their problem was to regulate more sternly the qualifications of the deputy sheriffs, even if they were family members as long as they were qualified, then that would fine.

Mr Fourie replied that the current Act actually had provisions that allowed the Board to lay down the terms of qualifications. Unfortunately the Board had hardly used this right. It was one of their objectives to use this.

The Chair asked why the Board has never tried to attract attorneys to the profession in an effort to diversify. Attorneys had legal knowledge and more experience in running their own business.

Mr Thaka Seboka (SABFS board member) replied that they actually had a large number of practicing attorneys who were sheriffs in the lower courts and some had abandoned their professions to come into the sheriff’s profession.

The Chair asked about the possibility of using the Justice College since she noticed that they kept talking about the LLB in terms of qualifications.

Ms Nduna replied that if they extensively streamlined the qualifications, they would end up with no sheriffs and this was not an ideal situation.

The Chair remarked that what they needed to do was to strategize and have one plan for the most lucrative areas that needed top level administration and office management and another set of skills for the smaller offices.

Ms Nduna replied that having two sets of criteria for large and small sheriff offices had been considered before and they would note the Chair’s suggestions.

Mr Aubrey Mali (Ward Councillor, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality) replied that if they focused solely on qualifications, they were going to alienate a large section of the community that had never had access to the profession in the first place. The Board's starting point was to establish a minimum standard and then through capacity building equip the people who had never had access to the profession. What they needed was to have a partnership with institutions such as UNISA to ensure that a lot of people were exposed to the profession. The benchmark should be to let the community at large gain access into the profession and then extend their qualifications through capacity building. This was the reason why some women had been appointed by the Minister into the profession as women had been previously excluded. Some people were working superbly but they did not have a formal degree and they did not feel that they should be excluded on the basis that they did not hold an LLB.

The Chair remarked that Mr Mali had made the crucial point about access to the profession but ultimately what they needed to do was to professionalise this area of business and her problem was they did not have a uniform introductory course for sheriffs.

Mr Seboka replied that in the current learnership they had a uniform course which was at post matric level and all sheriffs were undergoing it nationally as from 21 May. The duration was a year and the people enrolled had matric. If they did not, they would have to conclude certain required courses. Even a person with a degree still had to do the course.

The Chair asked who was running it.

Ms Nduna replied that they were dependent on other service providers. This was one of the issues they had highlighted, their inadequate capacity to run the course on their own with their own budget and infrastructure but they did have an accredited course. This was one of the objectives they were working on.

Ms Baduza (Executive Director SABFS) suggested that since the course was inadequate in that they had to depend on other services providers, what they could do was to engage with the Justice College.

The Chair remarked that this was a wonderful suggestion. Since the Justice College was going through a major restructuring, this was probably the best time to put across the message to the college.

Mr America added that they had already talked to the Justice College about the collaboration but they had not been given a concrete answer.

The Chair remarked that the Justice College might be uncertain - because of their judicial education work - but she urged them to work out something between the two of them because they had the necessary infrastructure and resources.

Ms S Camerer (DA) asked how the vacancies at Sandton and Randburg were going to unravel.

Advocate Skosana began by saying that they had noted the Committee's comments and they were going to work on them. In terms of the vacancies, there were 70 posts that were going to be advertised but there was need to balance efficient justice with what people can deliver. This was to avoid situations were the sheriffs found themselves in jail because they were not aware of proper procedures. For Sandton, they were going to create two more offices because the current single office was overwhelmed. There were complaints that a return of service took more than nine months. They were going to split Randburg, with its own sheriff office, that would be serviced by three sheriffs and with Sandton also being serviced by three sheriffs.

In reply to the Chair asking who did their audit, Mr America replied that it was an external service from Ngubane and Partners.

The Chair requested that the next time the Board appeared before them, they should have an audited report with its main findings.

She asked what they were looking for as the ideal budgetary income and why they wanted the specific amount, apart from training.

Ms Mabuza replied that they had put a budget before the department earlier on in the year. The R4 million they had was mainly spent on training and conducting an audit so as to verify the information from the sheriffs. Basically they wanted a higher budget for IT and human resources.

Mr America added that some of their priorities were to inform the community at large about civil procedure as there was too much emphasis on the criminal side of the law. This would bridge the gap. Moreover, people needed to understand how to respond to the sheriff after the judgment is given. The Board also needed to build capacity in their ability to analyze complaints.

The Chair concluded that she was heartened by the document addressing the follow-up issues. She thought that it was a step forward in that the Board had cooperation from the sheriffs' offices. On the issue of fines, she was of the opinion that if a sheriff took longer than required to respond to a complaint, then they should be fined.

The meeting was adjourned.

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