Home > HK
Friday, December 11, 2015, 08:11

Ombudsman slams poor regulation of NT graves

By Shadow Li in Hong Kong
Ombudsman slams poor regulation of NT graves
Residents p ass by graves at Fung Yuen in Tai Po. The ombudsman has lashed out at the government for failing to manage burial grounds. (Edmond Tang / China Daily)

The government watchdog on Thursday lashed out at lax enforcement and regulation in the burial of deceased indigenous villagers in the New Territories (NT) due to the unclear division of responsibility among five different departments.

The government introduced the hillside burial policy in 1983, which set aside 4,000 hectares of government land — more than half the size of Hong Kong Island — for the burial of deceased indigenous villagers of the New Territories. But villagers need to apply for certificates before burying their deceased kin in the designated burial grounds.

The ombudsman pointed out five major inadequacies in the current system. The management of the 520 permitted burial grounds is shared by the Home Affairs Department, the Lands Department, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Water Supplies Department.

But when illegal burials or violations of burial permits were reported, the ombudsman said, the departments concerned ended up passing the buck.

Apart from the inaction against illegal burials, Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing also hit out at the loose conditions of the burial certificates, which have no restrictions on the size of grave sites. That has led to some burial sites taking up more than 1,000 square feet each.

In the past 30 years, the Home Affairs Department has never revoked any permit despite complaints of violations. In one case, the government was forced to allow more than 60 illegal graves to be dug on a hill outside the designated burial zone.

The Lands Department cited manpower inadequacies for the lack of inspections on compliance with the conditions of the certificate.

Over three decades, the district lands offices have turned a blind eye to those who illegally chop down trees in order to construct graves. Current law requires grave site applicants to apply for tree removal, but the offices have never received any such applications.

One-fifth of the designated 4,000-hectare grave lands were also found to have overlapped with conservation areas. Removing trees and cementing over the land meant damage to the ecological environment was unavoidable, Lau said.

In one case, 8,000 square meters of vegetation within the conservation zone was scorched by fire when six graves were built.

The ombudsman suggested the government should hand over management of the sites to a single department. It also asked the government to organize regular patrols of the designated burial grounds, to restrict the size of burial sites and erect boundaries around designated areas.

Latest News