25 October 2016
Ng Yiu-tong (inset) says more than 100,000 applications for columbarium vaults are pending. Photos: HKEJ, am730
Ng Yiu-tong (inset) says more than 100,000 applications for columbarium vaults are pending. Photos: HKEJ, am730

Funeral operators slam ‘unsympathetic’ government

Private funeral operators are criticizing the government for not doing enough to help bereaved families deal with a shortage of niches in government-run columbaria.

They are planning a protest to press the government to be more sympathetic to their situation, according to am730.

Representatives said the government has ignored their proposals and two recent meetings with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) have had no progress. 

Ng Yiu-tong, life chairman of the Hong Kong Funeral Business Association (HKFBA), said red tape and bureaucracy are to blame for the problem.

Also, he lamented the continued public opposition to building columbaria near residential buildings.

“It would take half a month for a body to be cremated and as long as four years for a public niche to become available if the family cannot afford to pay,” Ng said.

He said more than 100,000 applications for columbarium vaults are pending.

Ng said many funeral homes have been offering temporary storage of ashes for families on the waiting list.

“The FEHD is afraid that these operators would themselves become columbaria, so it imposes restrictions such as banning the burning of fake money and on ashes being put on shelves,” he said.

Hong Kong has 40,000 deaths each year but it has only 20,000 public niches available.

HKFBA proposed additional niches in the newly built four-story Wo Hop Shek columbaria in Fanling but the government said there’s no shortage of vaults there.

Instead, the government approved a four-story property development on the site, HKFBA said.

The government has identified 24 potential plots which could provide 450,000 future niches.

Ng said a small number of Wo Hop Shek vaults are close to the floor, making them inconvenient and unpopular.

He criticized the lack of a proper waitlisting mechanism.

“New applications and those from years ago are drawn together. Yet, the government calls it fair,” Ng said.

Ng said the planned mass action might include families holding the ashes of their loved ones as a show of protest.

Meanwhile, the government is warning that funeral operators who obtained their licence after December 2008 are prohibited from storing ashes on their premises.

It’s considering further restrictions on temporary ash storage for 81 license holders.

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