'Clean' list mulled on storage of ashes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am

A list of private columbariums that are properly run is among measures being considered by a new government task force looking into ways to regulate privately run storage facilities for human ashes.

The interdepartmental taskforce, headed by the Food and Health Bureau, will also study increasing the supply of niches. A report is expected in a few months.

The move comes as the Consumer Council yesterday reported that almost two-thirds of the 28 complaints against columbarium services it received last year concerned the legality of the premises. In the first quarter of this year, there have been five such complaints. In 2008, the council received only nine complaints against funeral services.

The council also compiles its own list of properly-run private columbariums. As of the middle of last month, there were 13 on the list.

A government spokesman yesterday said the new taskforce would also consider introducing a listing system.

'We attach great importance to consumers' rights. We will study various measures to assist the trade to enhance the transparency of information about private columbariums, such as introducing a listing system ... This would allow the public to know more easily whether a columbarium complies with relevant legislation and requirements, which will strengthen the protection of consumers' rights.'

Under town planning laws, columbariums must conform to the requirements of the land-use zoning. Compliance with the requirements under the land lease is also needed for development and operation of private columbariums.

Ng Yiu-tong, of the Funeral Business Association, said the introduction of a licensing system should be the long-term solution, rather than a 'clean' list.

'The problem is not about which columbariums are on the list. The problem is about what the government will do to those not on the list. A much easier way to regulate the sector is to have a licensing system, and all those without a licence should be shut down,' Ng said.

Eddie Tse, of the Columbarium Concern Group, said: 'The government should have long-term planning on the supply of niches.' The group has accused the government of refusing to legislate and plan for columbariums.

The acute shortage of urn places has led to an increase in illegal facilities on private property, triggering concerns about fire safety, land use and consumer protection.

In a complaint cited in yesterday's Consumer Council report, a man paid a deposit 11 years ago of HK$15,500 for two urn niches - one for his deceased mother and the other for his father's future use. He was led to believe he could settle the outstanding payment when he needed to use the niche. But he later found the niche had been allocated to others and was asked to pay another HK$100,000 for a niche.

The government taskforce will look into the possibility of offering niches in existing cemeteries, and building or converting existing buildings into multi-storey columbarium blocks. It may also look into developing columbarium facilities in each district.

Legal columbariums

Kwun Yum Temple, Tsz Wan Shan

Fat Jong Temple, Tsz Wan Shan

Tsz Wan Kok Temple, Tsz Wan Shan

Yuen Yuen Institute, Tsuen Wan

Pun Chun Yuen Monastery, Tai Po

Tao Fung Shan Christian Cemetery, Sha Tin

Shun Shin Chee Kit Yin Koon, Sha Tin

Fung Ying Seen Koon, Fanling

Lung Shan Temple, Fanling

Ching Chung Sin Yuen, Tuen Mun

Filial Park, Tuen Mun

Shan Yuan, Tuen Mun

Wan Fau Sin Koon, Lau Fau Shan

Source: Planning Department