Licensing urged for columbariums

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 February, 2010, 12:00am

The Democratic Party has called for a licensing system to control privately run storage facilities for human ashes, after the party found that up to 20 columbariums may be operating illegally in the city.

Party legislator Wong Sing-chi yesterday said some of those private columbariums had been converted from village houses while others were inside temples, and may have breached their land lease conditions.

Many were in Sheung Shui, Kowloon Tong and on Lantau Island, he said, citing complaints the party had received in recent months.

The Democrats' call for prompt action came as findings of a poll it conducted last month showed more than 60 per cent of the 530 respondents agreed that privately run columbariums should be licensed. Only 6 per cent supported the government plan of a voluntary registration system.

Democratic Party legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said a voluntary registration system would not be effective. 'As it is a voluntary scheme, if the private operators do not join, they can easily avoid any legal liability. And the public would not receive adequate protection,' he said. He called for prompt action by the government to crack down on illegal columbariums.

At present, the wait to get a place in a government columbarium can take five years. As of September, there were 7,592 applications on a waiting list for 1,581 vacant niches in government columbariums.

Hongkongers are increasingly turning to private niches.

There are an estimated 100 private columbariums in Hong Kong, providing about 200,000 niches.