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Opening remarks by SFH at press conference on Private Columbaria Bill (with video)
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Following are the opening remarks of the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, at a press conference on the Private Columbaria Bill held today (June 18):

The Government announced at 8am today that the Chief Executive in Council has approved the Private Columbaria Bill. Through the Bill, the Government proposes to establish a licensing scheme to regulate the operation of private columbaria.

According to the Bill, the operation of a private columbarium in Hong Kong requires a licence, exemption or temporary suspension of liability. Columbaria seeking a licence must comply with statutory and government requirements, including those relating to land lease or other land instruments, town planning, and building safety, and submit a management plan to the Licensing Board.

For a columbarium which was in operation before 8am today (cut-off time) with interred ashes in niches and which meets other requirements under the Bill, it will be eligible to apply for exemption status if it is a dated columbarium (i.e. its operation commenced before January 1, 1990). However, they must freeze their scale of operation and cease selling or letting out new or unoccupied niches by the cut-off time if they want to have exemption.

Other pre-Bill columbaria and all non-pre-Bill columbaria must obtain a licence for continuing their operation and selling or letting out niches in future.

To determine which columbarium is a pre-Bill columbarium, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department launched a notification scheme today and issued letters to private columbaria known to the Government, requesting them to submit for record proof of their pre-Bill columbarium status.

To strike a reasonable balance in taking forward the licensing scheme, we need to proactively protect consumer interests on the one hand, while allowing sustainable operation on the other. We must also be pragmatic in handling existing private columbaria which do not comply with certain requirements of the prevailing legislation so as to avoid massive displacement of interred ashes, which will upset the resting place of the deceased and result in descendants having to find other places to relocate their ancestors' ashes, thereby causing social discord.

Ends/Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Issued at HKT 18:04

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