The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) will launch a decentralised call centre system next month in a bid to address the poor service levels experienced by people wanting to register companies.
This is according to commissioner Astrid Ludin, who spoke to the portfolio committee on trade and industry this week.
At present, individuals wanting to register companies or register changes to companies face a delay of between 20 minutes and one hour for their phone calls to be answered by the CIPC call centre. And even after this long delay, the call centre is often unable to resolve callers' queries.
Ludin said that the CIPC had considered outsourcing the call centre facility, but believed that while outsourcing might achieve quicker call answering it could cause the rate of "call resolution" to deteriorate.
She acknowledged the "low ability" of the call centre to resolve queries and said that its performance was inconsistent and deteriorating. The option of outsourcing was rejected, after some consideration, because the call resolution would deteriorate as a result of information technology problems and the limited network ability when the service was outsourced.
A significant problem, Ludin said, was the skills levels at the call centre.
"Decentralising the system enables the calls to be directed to the people who will know how to resolve the query."
She stressed that resolving calls was more important than answering them.
In June last year the CIPC received 51 963 calls, of which 18 773 were answered and 33 190 abandoned. By August the answer rate had improved significantly; of the 47 856 calls received, 22 188 were answered and 25 668 abandoned. But the improvement was short-lived. In November, of the 43 153 calls made to the centre only 12 260 were attended to and 30 893 were left unanswered.
DA spokesman Tim Harris expressed concern at the significant deterioration in the CIPC's performance since August.
"Last September (the CIPC) gave us a commitment that the registration backlogs would be cleared but instead there has been a significant backslide in performance," he said.
Ludin explained that the improvements recorded during July and August were attributable to the extreme pressure that had been put on staff to clear the backlogs. "We made that commitment (in September) without realising how tired the staff were (and) after they had achieved their August targets they did not keep up their efforts. We are now trying to institutionalise monitoring and incentive systems," Ludin said.
A key weakness at the CIPC was a lack of an effective supervisory system.
"The biggest issue is accountability, determining who's accountable for what."
Ludin said there were not sufficient processes within CIPC to do the necessary monitoring.
On the issue of the poor skill levels among CIPC staff, Deidre Meurs, an associate director at Statucor, a company secretarial practice, noted that the major problem area within the CIPC was the department that dealt with changes of directors.
"The situation is aggravated by the lack of knowledge among staff who seem to be working off a 'tick list'. When staff receive documents that are not worded as per the tick list the documents are rejected."
Meurs agreed that there was a shortage of staff but said that the CIPC would only run effectively if existing and new staff received proper training.