The shortage of public and private columbaria in Hong Kong has been a cause of public concern for years, but the government has simply failed to address the issue.
Although there is no official estimate of the actual demand, we can have an idea of how big it is by looking at average waiting period for a resident to be allocated a public columbarium niche.
As of December 2014, applicants had to wait an average of 54 months for an allocation, while some had to wait as long as 82 months.
According to a government forecast, the number of deaths in the city between 2015 and 2030 will be around 52,000 per year.
In other words, over the next 16 years, we will need at least another million columbarium niches to meet the demand.
However, at the current pace the government is planning for and building columbarium facilities, supply will continue to lag far behind the growing demand.
Following the construction of two columbaria in Diamond Hill and Cheung Chau in 2012, 450,000 more niches are scheduled to be completed in Tuen Mun, Kwai Ching, New Territories North and Island East soon.
However, these facilities can only satisfy some of the existing demand, and further supply of public niches exists only on paper at this stage.
The government’s failure to provide enough facilities to meet the rising demand has given rise to illegal private columbaria, which have sprouted all over the territory in recent years.
This multibillion-dollar business is attracting a lot of investors, although many of the operators have no license.
Instead of putting the blame on land shortage or partisan gridlock in the Legislative Council, the government should encourage public ingenuity, adjust its policies and coordinate the allocation of resources to meet the demand.
In the past few years several industrial buildings have been transformed into large-scale columbaria by some commercial institutions, providing tens of thousands of niches.
These institutions can play a more active role in alleviating the shortage of columbaria in the city.
The government should coordinate with them and regulate their business to protect the rights of consumers.
With the government facilitating the growth of the private market, it is hoped that operators of illegal columbaria will be driven out of the business by licensed players.
The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 8.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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