Only two out of 15 Hong Kong government officials will receive verbal warnings after they attended a birthday party for a delegate to China’s top legislature which was suspected to be in violation of Covid-19 social distancing rules. One official who attended has stepped down.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday the results of a probe into the group of officials who attended the tapas gathering on January 3 for Witman Hung. She said that some officials were found to not have worn a facemask or used the government’s contact tracing mobile app LeaveHomeSafe.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announcing results from an investigation into 15 government officials who attended a birthday party suspected on violating Covid-19 rules. Photo: GovHK.

The announcement came after ex-secretary for home affairs Caspar Tsui resigned from his post, saying that he “will take responsibility” for his actions as an attendee at the gathering.

The investigation into 15 government officials, including police chief Raymond Siu, Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Tsui, and former commissioner of customs and excise Hermes Tang, was conducted by the Director of the Chief Executive’s Office Eric Chan and Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip.

A questionnaire was issued to all 15 people, and they were told to give details including their arrival time, how long they stayed at the party, whether they had used LeaveHomeSafe, and whether they had worn a mask.

The chief executive said that it was no disciplinary issue with the officials accepting the invitation to the party, as all 15 of them had “different levels of work relations” with Hung, and that a lot of officials would see these sort of events “as part of their work duties.”

Party host Witman Hung and Ellen Tsang, both election committee members. Photo: Internet.

However, Lam said that three officials were found to have violated Covid-19 restrictions.

Tsui was found to have to failed to use the contact tracing application, while Political Assistant to Secretary for Development Allen Fung replied in the survey saying that he was not sure whether he had worn a mask because he had consumed some alcohol.

The pair were also the only officials to have stayed past 9.30 p.m. and exposed to greater risk, with Fung staying in the party for more than four hours, said Lam.

While Au and Tang also did not use LeaveHomeSafe, the chief executive said that they did not go into the restaurant area.

Deputy Head of the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office Vincent Fung was found to have not immediately complied with a compulsory testing order. The chief executive said that Fung received the notice to get tested on January 6, but did not notify his superior or take leave until the next day. Both Allen Fung and Vincent Fung will receive verbal warnings.

The chief executive also said that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will conduct another investigation into whether those attended the party had violated any Covid-19 restrictions.

‘Wrong judgement’

Lam said that the Tsui had “participated greatly in the anti-epidemic effort,” and that “compared to other officials, Caspar Tsui should have had a greater anti-epidemic awareness and sensitivity.”

Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“[Tsui] attended a crowded non-work related party on January 3, did not use LeaveHomeSafe, and even allegedly violated the mask-wearing rule, it is very disappointing, and it is unavoidable that it has brought embarrassment to himself and the SAR government, causing negative public perception,” said Lam.

The chief executive also said that political accountability was important to “meet public expectations that senior officials should uphold high standards in their conduct, in their integrity, in their daily dealings with people.”

“So the fact that Caspar has decided to resign in order to show that, this personal responsibility or this political responsibility, I think it’s something we should affirm, that this is the right act to do,” said the chief executive.

“I think he was by and large a very responsible and diligent colleague, but it was a very unfortunate event that he had made the wrong judgement [about, with] a lack of political sensitivity, especially in holding this position of the secretary for home affairs – but I do wish him luck, and I hope that he will continue to serve the community…” she added.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.