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Fri, Jan 14, 2000 - Page 2 News List

City admits funeral parlor scams

PROFITING THROUGH DEATH An official inspection of one of Taipei's municipal funeral parlors brought some unsavory, if not corrupt, practices to light

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei City officials say that practices such as overcharging and profiting from services that were not performed are rife at one of the city's publicly run funeral parlors.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

After visiting one of Taipei's two publicly-run funeral parlors yesterday, city officials admitted to failures in the supervision of the facilities -- failures that, according to Taipei City Councilor Duan Yi-kang (段宜康), include overcharging, charging for services that were not performed and allowing a private funeral service company to illegally occupy space on publicly-owned land.

In the wake of sustained criticism from city councilors over alleged bribery and corruption at Taipei's city-run funeral parlors, Duan yesterday invited city officials and undertakers to inspect the Number Two Funeral Parlor.

The visit provided several examples of what Duan dubbed the "severe and lingering illness" of the place.

One example is a privately-owned incinerator for burning paper money for the dead, set up by a private funeral service company at the site more than a decade ago.

"The company charges the bereaved NT$1,200 each time they use the incinerator," Duan said, as he questioned city officials as to why the illegal practice was disregarded for so many years.

Chen Cheng-chih (陳正治), chief of the city's funeral division, was quick to respond.

"We'll send people to demolish [the private incinerator] tomorrow evening," Chen said, though he was unable to explain why staffers in his division have turned a blind eye to the illegal incinerator for the last 10 years or so.

The Number Two Funeral Parlor offers paper money incinerators free of charge to the bereaved, but undertakers said the lack of sufficient facilities often forced grieving relatives to use the private incinerator.

Duan also blasted what he called the "unreasonable practice" that allows the division's employee welfare cooperative to run certain funeral service businesses, such as offering funeral meals for placement in front of the temporary tablets set up for the dead at the parlor.

He said as some of the cooperative's revenues directly benefit the division's employees, the Bureau of Social Affairs -- which oversees the funeral division -- should clarify the details of its income redistribution to avoid any possibility of corruption.

During a subsequent panel discussion, undertakers alleged that staff at the Number Two Funeral Parlor often failed to wash the bodies brought there, even though they still charged fees for such services.

They said the situation became even worse after the 921 earthquake destroyed the only corpse-washing platform at the parlor.

Undertaker Wang Hsueh-pin (王學斌) expressed anger over the issue.

"From the viewpoint of the bereaved, it's deplorable to see the bodies of loved ones unwashed before they are buried," Wang said.

Chen admitted similar allegations reached his desk six months ago. He said he had already instructed the parlor's staff not to charge corpse-washing fees if the service is not performed.

City officials also admitted they failed to do enough to curb shortcomings at the two funeral parlors and they vowed to accelerate reforms.

"I have to admit that what we saw today shows that we have failed to watch closely over practices here," admitted Su Li-chiung(蘇麗瓊), deputy director of the city's social affairs bureau.

Chen Jeaw-mei (陳皎眉), director of the bureau, said she was determined to curb operational problems.

"I've received telephone calls from people warning me to `be careful.' They said I was trying to stand in the way of their profit-making businesses [by launching reforms]," Chen said.

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