Office of The Ombudsman announces results of direct investigation into the Government’s follow-up actions regarding insufficient provision of public columbarium niches
28 June 2016
The Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau, today (June 28) announced the completion of a direct investigation into the Government’s provision of public columbarium niches. In the investigation report, the Office of The Ombudsman noted that the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) has made slow progress in providing more public columbarium facilities. In addition, the Government’s promotion of green burial services is far from effective and has failed to help mitigate the immensely excessive demand for public columbarium niches.
In 2010 and 2011, the FHB announced in batches that 24 potential sites in all the 18 districts across the territory had been identified for columbarium development. Nevertheless, the Office found that so far only two of the developments have been completed, providing a mere 2,540 niches. This falls far short of public expectations and is utterly inadequate compared to the 220,000 cremations expected to take place in the next few years. It would mean that those who cannot afford a private niche for a deceased family member would struggle to find a public columbarium niche.
Ms Lau said, “The FHB should speed up its pace and be proactive in enlisting support from local communities. Where a development scheme is more controversial, the FHB should step up its lobbying efforts at the district level. Conversely, for development schemes which are smaller in scale or less controversial, the FHB should consider giving them a higher priority in order to satisfy the long accumulated demand.”
The Office also found that green burials have made up just a small fraction of all burial cases because only a very small number of people had chosen green burial services for their deceased relatives. Ms Lau noted, “Land is a scarce resource in Hong Kong. In the long run, the Government should focus on developing sustainable burial services. The FHB should adopt diversified measures, which may include enhancing the existing green burial services and exploring new modes of providing public burial services. This multi-pronged approach can help relieve the pressure on construction of more public columbaria.”
The Office is pleased to note the recent progress in raising the supply of public columbarium niches: in May 2016 the Sha Tin District Council endorsed the development scheme in Shek Mun. In addition, to strengthen the relevant strategy formulation work, the FHB is going to set up a working group on green burial services under the Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene.
The report of the above investigation has been uploaded to the Office of The Ombudsman website at www.ombudsman.hk for public inspection and reference.
Office of The Ombudsman
June 28, 2016