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Second Reading debate on Private Columbaria Bill to resume in April
     The Second Reading debate on the Private Columbaria Bill will be resumed in the Legislative Council on April 12. The Bill aims to regulate the operation of private columbaria through a licensing scheme in order to enhance protection of consumer interest, and to ensure the trade adopts a sustainable mode of operation.

     A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said today (March 31), "After the passage of the Bill, private columbaria are not allowed to sell or newly let niches between the enactment of the Ordinance and the issue of a licence. This is to protect consumer interest and prevent in the post-enactment period the aggravation of the scale of non-compliance of columbaria which eventually fail to comply with the requirements. This arrangement, however, has aroused concerns among some relevant sectors on the supply of niches over a certain period of time in future."

     The spokesman said that in the next few years non-governmental private cemeteries, including non-profit making cemeteries managed by the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries (BMCPC) and religious or ethnic bodies, will continue to supply niches in their columbaria. The Government will also strive to increase the number of public niches. Also, the public can consider applying for placing additional sets of ashes in niches allocated by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) or BMCPC, use the short-term facilities for temporary storage of ashes of FEHD, adopt green burial, or keep ashes at home.

     It is expected that the number of niches that could be provided by the above private cemeteries between 2017 and 2019 is about 61 800, while the estimated minimum number of new public niches available for allocation in the years between 2018 and 2021 is at least 130 000.

     On applying for placement of additional sets of ashes in niches allocated by the FEHD or the BMCPC, the FEHD estimated that as many as 181 000 more urns can be placed if the niches are optimally used. There are about 300 000 urn spaces in the standard niches and family niches at BMCPC’s columbaria. The capacity of the FEHD’s temporary storage facilities will be increased to hold at least 65 000 urns in the coming two years.

     More people have been adopting green burial in recent years, as reflected by the number of cases being increased from about 4.6 per cent of the total number of deaths in Hong Kong in 2010 to about 10.5 per cent in 2016. The Government will continue to vigorously promote this sustainable way of disposal of ashes.

     "On processing the issue of licences to private columbaria, the Government will set up a licensing board within six months after the enactment of the Ordinance. Pre-cut off columbaria (i.e. columbaria which were in operation before 8am on June 18, 2014 with interred ashes in niches) are required to submit applications for specified instruments in the three months that follow (i.e. from the seventh month to the ninth month after the enactment of the Ordinance). The Government will invite the Licensing Board to set up a mechanism and consider, where practicable, expediting the processing of applications for specified instruments, with a view to resuming the supply of private niches as soon as possible," the spoksman said.

     The Government calls on the public to be cautious when purchasing or renting private columbaria niches before the passage of the Bill. Whether an existing private columbarium will be able to obtain a licence in future is uncertain. Even if a private columbarium can obtain a licence, the maximum ash interment capacity cannot be foretold at this stage. As such, the public should exercise extra caution against dubious marketing strategies on the purchase and new letting of niches. Since the purchase of niches is a matter of private contracts, consumers are well advised to ascertain if terms giving due protection to their interests are included in the contracts, and to seek independent legal opinion if they have any queries, with a view to forestalling losses.
Ends/Friday, March 31, 2017
Issued at HKT 18:16
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