Parliament Q&A

Written Reply by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamentary Question on After-Death Facilities, on 3 Feb 2020

Miss Cheng Li Hui: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in light of the case of a cremation mix up (a) whether it timely for the Ministry to conduct a review of the industry's practices and standard operating procedures; (b) what are the preventive measures put in place by NEA following the incident; (c) whether NEA intends to play a bigger role in regulating funeral companies, in particular working with the Association of Funeral Directors Singapore; and (d) how often does NEA inspect and conduct checks on Government after-death facilities to ensure compliance to regulation.

Reply by Minister Masagos Zulkifli:

1. The National Environment Agency (NEA) licenses funeral parlours with embalming facilities. Regarding the wrongful cremation incident on 30 December 2019, NEA’s investigation found that the licensed funeral parlour involved had not complied with the regulatory requirement to keep proper records of the deceased received into and moved from the premises.

2. NEA takes a very serious view of this incident. Funeral directors and funeral parlour operators have the professional and ethical responsibility to ensure that the deceased under their charge are properly accounted for, and handled in a dignified and respectful manner.

 3. Immediately following its investigation, NEA suspended the licence of the funeral parlour on 6 January 2020 and stopped the funeral director from using Government after-death facilities. NEA is undertaking enforcement action against the funeral parlour for not keeping proper records of the deceased received into or moved from the premises. The funeral parlour and funeral director are required to rectify the lapses and improve their processes to prevent such an incident from happening. NEA will only lift the suspension when we are satisfied that all necessary measures have been put in place.

 4. NEA issued a circular on 10 January to remind all licensed funeral parlours of the licensees’ regulatory responsibilities to safeguard environmental hygiene; NEA has also prescribed additional measures, such as the requirement to strengthen the system of identification of the deceased and tightening of access control into and out of the premises. While many licensees already have systems and processes in place, NEA has emphasised to all of them the need to strengthen their systems and uphold high service standards. NEA’s follow-up inspections showed that all licensees are complying with these new requirements. NEA will take firm action against any licensee for non-compliance, including suspension or cancellation of the funeral parlour licence in the case of egregious offences.

 5. NEA is also working with the Association of Funeral Directors (AFD) to uplift the professionalism and standards of the funerary services industry. The AFD already has a Code of Conduct to guide funerary industry professionals on the conduct of their business. NEA is identifying further areas for improvement in training standards and process workflow. We will make these plans known when ready.   

 6. NEA operates government-owned after-death facilities, such as the Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium Complex and the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery Complex. A quality management system based on ISO standards is in place at these facilities and processes comply with regulatory requirements. NEA officers adhere to comprehensive standard operating procedures that include stringent checks of particulars and documents at each step of the cremation or burial process.

 7. My Ministry and NEA are working with the funerary services industry, in consultation with religious leaders, to review how we can further improve controls and uplift the standards of the industry. I urge all funerary services industry professionals to step up and continuously improve their operations to achieve higher service standards and better accountability. If required, we are prepared to consider further regulations on the funerary services industry.

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