Officials snub forum to discuss urn niches

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am

Government officials yesterday snubbed a public forum on a shortage of urn niches as they passed the buck over who should be in charge.

City Forum, organised by RTHK, was held at a park in Kowloon City and attended by villagers frustrated by urn storage near their homes.

While a lawmaker, a funeral business spokesman, a social worker for the elderly, and a member of a columbarium policy concern group spoke on the issues, government officials refused an invitation to attend.

Tse Chi-fung, the forum's host, said their invitation had been met by a wall of government bureaucracy. 'It has been a very strange experience to us.' He said they contacted the Food and Health Bureau which advised them to ask the Development Bureau.

'The Development Bureau then passed the buck to the Lands Department which referred us to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department,' Tse said. The food department asked them to contact Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen but Tse did not say if they did so.

The bureau and departments have been under fire about whether there is a need for legislation, regulatory mechanisms and law enforcement in relation to suspected illegal columbariums. They have also been accused of failing to provide sufficient public niches to meet rising demand, leaving the poorly regulated private sector to fill the gap with facilities in urban residential blocks, village houses or rural sites.

A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said it was not a 'policy bureau' on columbariums but a 'policy co-ordinator'. He said the bureau had joined Development Bureau and Home Affairs Bureau in a task force to study increasing the supply of niches and measures to protect consumers who have bought private niches.

Ho Pui-han, a spokesman for the Columbarium Concern Group, said the government had adopted a hands-off approach to columbariums. 'In a nutshell, it can be summarised as the three 'unwillings' and two 'refusals'. The officials are unwilling to legislate, regulate and enforce, as well as refusing to plan and communicate,' he said.