Lack of sensitivity in face of tragedy

Editorial | Mary Ma 17 Nov 2020

Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui Ying-wai joined the government in 2008, but it seems he has not learnt to show a little more sensitivity after all these years.

His posting of a photograph to his Facebook page of sweet soups taken at a restaurant in Western District the night a fire claimed seven lives - including a nine-year-old oy - and injured a number of others was plain indiscreet.

Worse still, in the face of a sea of criticism, he countered that he had demonstrated multitasking by managing to reply to criticism while working with his colleagues to cope with the tragedy.

This only irritated the public even more.

Tsui has always been a political appointee since joining the government as a political assistant to the home affairs secretary in 2008.

Perhaps he is because he is still relatively young. Aged 44, he is the youngest principal official in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's cabinet. But age is no excuse.

Lam - whose head is about 19 years wiser than his - issued a statement overnight expressing profound sadness over the deaths and injuries of so many people and spent the next morning inspecting the scene.

Let us rewind the clock to what probably happened on Sunday night.

Tsui visited the sweet soup shop in Western District and, around 9.45pm, posted a photo of his favorite sweet soups to his page with a smiling emoji. There were two bowls, one black, the other white.

Perhaps he was not aware that a fire was raging through an old tenement block across the harbor in Jordan. And if he was aware of the blaze, he might not have known it was so serious.

The blaze started around 8pm and it was already widely known by 10pm that seven people had died, including a child.

This is where two questions arise.

First, his officers in the home affairs bureau were supposed to have been informed of the tragedy and they must have known the gravity of the incident before it was announced to the media.

Did the staff notify Tsui in a timely manner? They should have. If they did not, it would be their fault that Tsui was unaware of the gravity of the situation and somebody may have to be held responsible.

Also, Tsui should have admitted this to the public, saying he was unaware of the tragedy at the time he posted the inappropriate photo.

But if he was informed, Tsui must be honest about it.

The incident was more than a public relations disaster. With all the opposition lawmakers having left the Legislative Council, the public are concerned about whether or not the administration will escape proper monitoring.

Tsui should refer to his transport and housing peer Frank Chan Fan who is 18 years older and 18 years wiser.

In early 2018, Chan's staff diligently informed him of a serious bus accident had occurred in Tai Po when he was attending an MTR Corp media event.

Chan left the event quickly to go to the hospital to oversee the aftermath of the horrific accident that left 19 passengers dead and 65 injured.

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