| Private Columbaria Ordinance to come into effect on June
The Private Columbaria Ordinance (the Ordinance), which regulates the operation of private columbaria through a licensing scheme, will come into effect on June 30 upon gazettal.
The Private Columbaria Bill was passed by the Legislative Council today (May 25). The Ordinance aims to ensure that private columbaria are operated in compliance with statutory and Government requirements, to enhance the protection of consumer interest, and to ensure that the mode of operation of the trade is sustainable. Upon the enactment of the Ordinance, the operation of a private columbarium in Hong Kong must be covered by a licence, exemption or temporary suspension of liability (TSOL). Only private columbaria that have obtained a licence may sell or newly let out niches.
For a columbarium which was in operation with ashes interred in niches before 8am on June 18, 2014 (a pre-cut-off columbarium), if it is a dated columbarium (i.e. its operation has commenced before January 1, 1990) and meets other requirements under the Ordinance, the columbarium will be eligible to apply for exemption status under the licensing regime. Other columbaria must obtain a licence.
A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said, "With the enactment of the Ordinance, a private columbarium that was in operation immediately before June 30, 2017 may continue to operate during a nine-month grace period until March 29, 2018 on the condition that it does not sell or newly let out niches.
"In the first six months after the enactment of the Ordinance, the Government will undertake preparatory work for the introduction of the licensing scheme, including setting up the Private Columbaria Licensing Board and putting in place the necessary mechanism, procedures and guidelines.
"The Licensing Board will start receiving applications for specified instruments, namely TSOL, exemption or licence, upon the expiry of the six-month period (i.e. December 30) counting from the enactment date of the Ordinance. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has set up the Private Columbaria Affairs Office to provide executive support to the Board and handle matters relating to the implementation of the Ordinance."
Applications for specified instruments by pre-cut-off columbaria must be submitted within a three-month period from December 30, 2017 to March 29, 2018.
For ashes already interred before June 30 in a private columbarium that was in operation immediately before the enactment date, they may continue to be kept in the columbarium in the following periods:
* the nine-month grace period;
* if the columbarium has submitted an application for TSOL, the period when the application is being processed until the application is finally disposed of or withdrawn;
* if a specified instrument such as TSOL, exemption or licence is granted to the columbarium and the ashes are included in the approved plans: the period when the specified instrument is in force.
Any private columbarium which falls within any of the following situations is required to carry out the prescribed ash disposal procedures as stipulated by the Ordinance:
* it commences operation on or after June 30 without any specified instrument in force;
* it was in operation before June 30, but continues to operate without any specified instrument in force after the grace period; or
* it is abandoned or ceases operation.
Any person who operates, keeps, manages or in any other way has control of a columbarium illegally or disposes of ashes improperly commits an offence and is liable to a fine of $2 million and imprisonment for three years on summary conviction, and to a fine of $5 million and imprisonment for seven years on conviction on indictment.
The spokesman added that according to the Ordinance, any person-in-possession (including owner, mortgagee, liquidator or trustee, etc, in respect of the columbarium premises) who takes possession of columbarium premises must notify the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, in writing, within seven calendar days after the date of taking possession (the seven-day notification requirement).
"Nevertheless, it is envisaged that during the initial stage of implementation, some persons in possession may not be familiar with the relevant seven-day notification requirement. Hence, in respect of columbarium premises which were taken possession of between June 30, 2017 and June 29, 2018, upon enactment of the Ordinance, enforcement action will not be taken against the persons in possession merely because of their failure to provide the required notification within seven calendar days in accordance with the legislation if they are able to provide the Director with the required notification no later than 30 calendar days after the date of taking possession," the spokesman said.
The spokesman calls on the public to exercise caution when purchasing or renting private columbaria niches.
"After enactment of the Ordinance, members of the public should not buy or newly rent niches from any private columbarium that does not hold a licence. They should also pay attention to the provisions governing the purchase or newly renting of niches stipulated in the Ordinance," the spokesman added.
Details about the Ordinance and the guidelines on the prescribed ash disposal procedures will be available for public information from June 30 at the website on the regulation of private columbaria (www.rpc.gov.hk).
Ends/Thursday, May 25, 2017
Issued at HKT 13:46