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 Government reminds consumers of risks associated with private niches
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The Government highlights the risks associated with purchasing or renting private niches, and reminds consumers to refrain from making any rash decision. Consumers should exercise extra vigilance with undertakings by individual private columbarium operators who claim that they could obtain a licence/exemption for certain in due course and/or pledge that the ash interment arrangement will not be affected by the Private Columbaria Bill to be implemented in future.

A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau today (July 25) said: "The Private Columbaria Bill could not be passed by the fifth term of the Legislative Council. The Government will strive to re-activate the legislative exercise on the regulation of private columbaria as soon as the next term of the Legislative Council begins, with a view to having the relevant bill enacted as soon as possible.

"The re-introduced bill will adopt the framework discussed and supported by the Bills Committee of the current term of the Legislative Council, including all the Committee Stage Amendments over which consensus had already been reached. Although the Bill was not passed by the fifth term of the Legislative Council, this will not change the cut-off time set out in the Bill (i.e. 8 am on June 18, 2014).

"The operator of any private columbarium who intends to apply for an exemption in future must continue to cease selling or letting out niches, otherwise he/she will lose the eligibility to apply for an exemption. One who loses the eligibility to apply for an exemption can only apply for a licence. In other words, the operator must fulfil the more stringent requirements for seeking a licence under the legislation if he/she is to continue to operate his/her columbarium."

​If any person, including a columbarium operator, an intermediary and a consumer, falsely claims that the niche in which ashes are being interred is sold or let out before the cut-off time (i.e. 8 am on June 18, 2014) with the intent to deceive the Government, thus resulting in prejudice to the Government, that person commits the offence of fraud under the Theft Ordinance (Cap 210), which would render an offender liable on conviction to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years. And if any person, including a columbarium operator, an intermediary and a consumer, conspires to deceive the Government, that person commits the offence of conspiracy to defraud. Such an act is contrary to Common Law and punishable under the Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200), which would render an offender liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years.

The spokesman reiterated that after the bill for regulating private columbaria has been enacted, only private columbaria that have been issued with a licence may sell or let out niches. Whether existing private columbaria would be able to obtain a licence in future is uncertain. Even if private columbaria could obtain a licence, the maximum ash interment capacity could not be foretold at present. As such, members of the public should exercise extra caution against dubious marketing strategies on the purchase and renting of niches before the enactment of the bill. 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, and to seek independent legal opinion if they have any queries, with a view to forestalling losses.

All private columbarium operators are required to comply with existing statutory and government requirements. Various law enforcement agencies including the Planning Department, the Buildings Department and the Lands Department will continue to take enforcement actions against unauthorised private columbaria in accordance with the powers conferred by the existing legislation and land instrument.

Should members of the public need to use niches before the enactment of the relevant bill, they may wish to consider options including temporary storage of ashes provided by the Government; niches of the columbaria in private cemeteries, making use of niches already allocated by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department or the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries for placing additional sets of ashes; scattering the ashes in Garden of Remembrance or at sea; or keeping the ashes at home.

Ends/Monday, July 25, 2016
Issued at HKT 21:30
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