Ombudsman chides Lands Department for lax attitude to pet columbarium

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 May, 2013, 4:46am

The Ombudsman has chastised the Lands Department for being lax in cracking down on an illegal pet funeral business that operated in an industrial building for more than eight years.

The department did not consider the case "high priority" because there were no fire safety breaches, so it issued only warnings to the company over the years, Alan Lai Nin said.

"I understand it's impossible … to check every single block involved in complaints," he said. "But a case not of a high priority doesn't mean you never need to take action."

The watchdog against maladministration began investigating after the Owners' Corporation of the block complained last year. It found the department had taken little action since 2004, when the complainant first approached lands officers.

They issued only warning letters to the business, which initially occupied two units with cremation burners and pet columbarium niches that violated land use restrictions.

Upon receiving each warning, the business simply moved to other units within the same building. Over the course of eight years, it occupied seven units at different times.

And each time this happened, only a warning letter was issued, the Ombudsman said. In some instances, the operators even refused to allow lands officers entry into the premises to take photos for prosecution.

It was not until last year after the watchdog stepped in that the department registered the warnings at the Land Registry, which would affect property transactions, for example, in obtaining bank mortgages.

"The department adopted a lax attitude although the neighbours in the building were concerned," Lai said, noting that similar illegal operations were conducted in other industrial buildings.