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Government reminds public not to purchase niches from unlicensed private columbaria
     A spokesman of Food and Health Bureau today (October 25) reminds the public that the Private Columbaria Ordinance has already come into operation.  Only licensed operators are allowed to sell (including offer to sell) niches.  Non-compliant operators may be prosecuted for contravening section 10 of the Ordinance.  They are liable to a fine of $2 million and imprisonment for three years on summary conviction; and to a fine of $5 million and imprisonment for seven years on conviction on indictment.  Members of the public should not purchase niches from unlicensed private columbaria and seek legal opinions to protect their own interest.
     Upon the enactment of the Ordinance, it remains uncertain whether a private columbarium now in operation could obtain a licence or not.  Even if a licence is issued eventually, operator of the private columbarium and consumers cannot foretell at this stage the maximum ash interment capacity that may be allowed in the licence. The spokesman reminds consumers not to purchase niches from unlicensed private columbaria, whether such purchase is directly from the columbarium operators or through their intermediaries, so as to avoid any loss in case of the columbaria failing to obtain a licence in future.
     "A sale of an ash internment right includes to a disposition of the right to a person with payments made.  Apart from payments such as deposits and transaction costs, administration fees for changing dedicated person or donation (for example, worship money), etc. are also regarded as payments.  Operators should not defy the law," said the spokesman.
     "Consumers should know that if the operator is not a party to the agreement or is not the recipient of the payment, it is difficult for them to enforce the agreement against the operator.
     "Part 5 of the Ordinance applies to an agreement entered into on or after the enactment date.  According to section 49(3) of the Ordinance, the agreement is not enforceable against the purchaser unless a series of pre-requisites are fulfilled, including the seller held a licence in respect of the columbarium at the time when the agreement was entered into (see subsection (a)).  According to section 50(1) and (3), the purchaser under such an agreement may cancel the agreement at any time after it is entered into by giving the seller a written notice of cancellation.  The seller must, within 30 days after the date of receiving the notice, refund to the purchaser all money received under the agreement," he added.
     "In case of any suspected breach of the Ordinance, members of the public are requested to report to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and provide relevant information.  The Private Columbaria Affairs Office will handle it seriously and conduct investigation.  Should there be sufficient evidence, prosecution actions against the offenders will be instituted," the spokesman said.
     Details about the regulation of private columbaria is available on FEHD’s website: www.fehd.gov.hk/rpc/english/index.html.
Ends/Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Issued at HKT 21:17
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