A multimillion-dollar bid to run a publicly owned funeral parlour in Hung Hom has beefed up government coffers while triggering a chain reaction of price increases by other private parlours, operators say.
At least two private commercial operators have already raised the rents of funeral halls by as much as a third since February, when the government awarded a HK$270 million, five-year contract to a new operator to run the Sai Sing Funeral Parlour in Hung Hom, a Funeral Business Association spokesman said yesterday.
Others are expected to follow the lead of the Universal Funeral Parlour in Hung Hom and Kowloon Funeral Parlour in Tai Kok Tsui when the new operator, South China Memorial Park & Funeral Services, reopens the former Sai Sing facility as the Grand Peace Funeral Parlour in May after it has been renovated.
The successful bid was three times the amount paid by the previous operator, chairman Ng Yiu-tong said. '[Sai Sing] is the only publicly owned funeral parlour and you can't run it awarding the tender to the highest bidder,' he said. 'This will only make the poor suffer more.'
The parlour has about 21 rooms and halls, accounting for one-sixth of the total now currently offered by seven operators. Ng said he had no idea how much the new operator would charge to recoup the average monthly rental of HK$4.5 million.
But he said the Universal parlour raised the rent for an average-sized funeral room from HK$3,300 to HK$5,000 on March 1, while rates at the Kowloon parlour rose 30 per cent to HK$5,200. Neither operator could be reached for comment.
Ng, whose association represents funeral agents, said they would have no choice but to pass the extra rent to their clients, as service packages include renting rooms from parlours.
But the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, operator of International Funeral Parlour in Hung Hom and Diamond Hill Funeral Parlour, said it had been taking care of grass-roots needs by providing inexpensive services and did not plan to increase charges.
A spokesman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the tender was awarded 'according to the established procedures and processes'.
He added that under the new contract the operator would be asked to provide services to disadvantaged groups referred by the Social Welfare Department or other departments for no more than HK$11,480.