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Speech by Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene at Asia Funeral Expo 2011 (English only) (with photos)

     The following is a speech by the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, Mr Clement Leung, at the opening ceremony of the Asia Funeral Expo 2011 today (May 19):

     Mr (Kenny) Lo, Mr (Patrick) Lynch, Mr (Andrew) Wylegala, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to join you today in opening the Asia Funeral Expo 2011. I am particularly happy to see this event in Hong Kong for the third time and hope you will be able to come back more often. And a warm welcome to our friends, who have travelled from different parts of the world to be with us today.

     Although death is inevitable for all, it is still an uncomfortable topic for many. Some people prefer not to talk or even think about it. However, for those of us who have some experience of managing after-death arrangements, some forward planning will certainly help avoid conflicts, anxiety and distress among surviving family members, making difficult moments less painful and traumatic. In Hong Kong, while younger members of a family will still exercise care and discretion when the topic is brought up with their seniors, many elderly people have accepted the need for them to plan, and indeed have planned for their final farewell.

     The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department that I am managing is very much involved in providing after-death services in Hong Kong. We manage public cemeteries, crematoria and public columbaria. And we regulate private cemeteries, funeral homes and undertakers of burials. To improve our services, we are embarking on several major initiatives.

First: meeting demand

     Our city is very compact and there is a shortage of land for everything, including a shortage of accommodation for the deceased. We are proposing to build more public columbaria and have identified 24 potential sites for doing so. Of course, we recognise that they are not the most popular facilities that people would like to have in their neighbourhood, and we would therefore carry out various feasibility studies and local consultations before going firm on these projects.

Second: enhancing regulation

     There is strong public demand for better regulation of private columbaria. We plan to introduce a new licensing scheme to ensure compliance with land, planning and other safety requirements, as well as to minimise traffic and environmental nuisances. This, again, will be a controversial subject and we intend to consult the public on the licensing framework later this year.

Third: consumer protection

     The Government has in the meantime released a list of private columbaria with information about their compliance, or otherwise, with our land and planning requirements. We urge Hong Kong consumers to read the information carefully, to ascertain and ask from operators your rights, and to consult professionals if necessary before you pay or sign anything.

Fourth: better facilities

     We are improving the look and feel of our physical infrastructure. A replacement programme is now under way to use greener and more efficient cremators. We have improved the design and landscaping of our new facilities, which won several prestigious architectural awards. Some of you will have the opportunity to visit our award-winning premises at Diamond Hill in the next few days and we appreciate your views on how we can do it even better.

Last but not least: more choices and options

     We are promoting alternative and more sustainable ways for handling cremains. We are beginning to see some gradual change in attitude. For example, more people have chosen to scatter ashes in our Gardens of Remembrance, having nearly doubled from 650 cases in 2009 to about 1 200 cases last year. Scattering of ashes at sea increased from less than 300 cases to over 800 cases in the same period, partly attributable to a free ferry service that we operate every Saturday. We have also introduced since June last year a new Internet memorial service to enable families and friends to create and publish home pages for the deceased, to upload and share photos, videos and messages by just a few clicks. So far, more than 3 600 memorial pages have been created through, and we are adding new features and functionalities to make it even more user-friendly. Of course, we understand that this cannot completely replace the more common ways to pay respect, but it illustrates there are other creative and innovative methods to express our love and care, other than everyone going to visit the graveyard on exactly the same two days during the traditional festivals in spring and autumn.

     Ladies and gentlemen, the Government cannot improve our services alone and we rely a lot on the private sector to bring in new ideas, new technologies and new products for us to do a better job. Trade events like the Asia Funeral Expo are highly complementary to our efforts. The Expo this year has again brought together funeral experts and professionals from around the world and provides an ideal platform for you to share experience and explore business opportunities.  

     In closing, I wish the Asia Funeral Expo every success and all of you a rewarding exchange. For those of you coming from abroad, I wish you an enjoyable stay here, and forget about death for a moment and try to make the best use of your time in Hong Kong, Asia's world city and the city of life. Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, May 19, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:41


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