Temple defends urn niche lottery

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 September, 2009, 12:00am

Operators of a Taoist temple criticised for abruptly changing the sale system for its urn niches from first-come-first-served to a lottery last week responded for the first time yesterday, saying the arrangement was the best solution for most people.

Scuffles broke out on Tuesday last week after up to 1,000 people queuing at Ching Chung Sian Yuan columbarium in Tuen Mun learned that, instead of being able to buy niches to store funeral ashes, they would only be given tickets for a lottery.

The temple had said earlier that the first 140 people in the queue every day from Tuesday to Saturday would be able to buy niches. Some had been queuing since the previous Sunday when they learned of the change.

Yesterday, the temple's administrator said the change had been made because 'many, many people were waiting under the scorching sun and some got pretty angry ... we were afraid they would get hurt'.

The administrator, giving her name only as Law, said the allocation had been done in the fairest possible way. She said the first 140 people in the queue on the first day would be allocated niches.

The niches were for personal use only, and the temple would ensure the name on the application form matched the name of the owner of the ashes, she said.

Applications closed last Friday, and the draw will be held on Tuesday, witnessed by Home Affairs Bureau officials. Law said the applications had not yet been counted, but estimated there were at least 3,000. About 750 niches remain at a cost of HK$50,000 to HK$200,000.

Society for Community Organisation campaign organiser Ng Wai-tung said the allocation had been mismanaged. 'Although a lottery seems fair to everyone, their erratic, inconsistent arrangement is not. They didn't manage it well.'

He said the main problem was a lack of urn niches at public sites. 'It takes about three years to get a place. Chinese people care about family and friends. If the dead aren't given proper care, the government must shoulder the burden. The government clearly has the land for more niches, but it just doesn't give the matter due attention.'

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said that, in July, 10,665 families were waiting for niches at public columbariums.