At last the plan for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to host a banquet to celebrate the 80th birthday of Sir Sze-yuen Chung at Government House has been called off, but that does not mean the problems associated with the controversy will disappear. It is true the celebration has been cancelled amid mounting public criticism, but what Mr Tung and Sir Sze-yuen said on Monday suggests the cancellation was not exactly a response to the public outcry. Instead it was a reluctant gesture to protect Mr Tung from further malicious attack. In declining Mr Tung's invitation, the Executive Council convenor leapt to the Chief Executive's defence, saying it was common for bosses to treat their staff to meals at the company's expense to help instil loyalty and bolster co-operation. Speaking after Sir Sze-yuen, Mr Tung also indicated he was not swayed by the public opinion. Had the Exco convenor not declined his invitation, he emphasised, the Exco convenor would still go ahead with the dinner party. In other words, Mr Tung and Sir Sze-yuen were telling the community they did not think the public objection was valid or fair. They do not agree that the Chief Executive is confusing private interest with official duty. The frustration and resentment voiced in the recent criticisms that swamped radio phone-in programmes and newspaper columns and letter pages would not have been hard to detect. They may also see some of the criticisms as personal - attacking Mr Tung instead of the party plan. Their attitudes as emerged from the latest event are worrying. For Hong Kong people, the issue now being exposed is not the appropriateness of using public funds and a taxpayer-funded venue to celebrate Sir Sze-yuen's birthday; it is the question of how much Mr Tung and Sir Sze-yuen are willing to listen carefully to public views and respond to them. Notwithstanding their record of long public service, the pair do appear to be still unfamiliar with how a modern, accountable administration should be run. Both Mr Tung and Sir Sze-yuen insisted the birthday party was an official function because Government House was meant to be a venue for public figures to visit for the purpose of improving co-operation. But in the public eye a birthday party is a birthday party, its primary purpose has nothing to do with guests' official duties. Critics maintain the Chief Executive has failed to draw a line between public and private interests. And this is where Mr Tung and the community have failed to have a meeting of minds. Understanding public perceptions and acting to tackle those perceptions constitute an important element in running a modern administration. Hong Kong people are pleased that Mr Tung does note the public's high expectations of the conduct of the Chief Executive and civil servants. But by adding that 'public opinion sometimes says good, sometimes says bad, and I do what I believe to be right', Mr Tung has shown very little appreciation of what the public thinks in Sir Sze-yuen's case. Mr Tung's strong personal views in this matter have obviously blurred his judgment of public sentiment. People may say the banquet is just a storm in a teacup, but what they want to know is whether Mr Tung will hold a similar attitude towards public opinion on other issues. Mr Tung has to know that if, just because he holds a strong view on a matter, he refuses to take full note of the public mood, there is a price to pay. In a community that puts so much emphasis on governing by consensus, failure to be responsive to public concerns will only prove counter-productive to his effective governance.