In a city where misbehaving officials may often walk away with just a slap on the wrist, the removal of Caspar Tsui Ying-wai over the “partygate” scandal is a refreshing change. While it helps put the political accountability system in a more positive light, holding officials and politicians responsible for their wrongdoings and bad performances remains a work in progress. The home affairs chief would never have thought that a birthday bash would have cost him his HK$4 million-a-year job. As one of the principal officials fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, Tsui must have been well aware of the health and political risks when he joined 200 others at the rule-breaking party celebrating the birthday of state legislator Witman Hung Wai-man last month. In fact, he showed up at the event just hours after attending an internal meeting on the Omicron outbreak, but he did not check in with the “Leave Home Safe” risk-exposure app or wear a face mask as required by law. Tsui, a stalwart of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, is the first to have risen through ministerial ranks. He is also the first to have stepped down as a result of political controversy in a decade. Whether he was sacked or resigned on his own accord is perhaps immaterial; his behaviour clearly fell short of the high standards expected of a top official. Not only did he bring the government into disrepute, but also diverted government resources and public attention during a deepening public health crisis. Unprecedented rise, undignified exit: minister felled by rules he helped oversee Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Tsui’s resignation was an affirmation of the spirit of the accountability system. The public may think otherwise, though. An investigation cleared 12 of the 15 top officials who also attended the party. Among them was Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, who had already come under fire for breaking Covid rules to join a hotpot dinner last year. The verbal warnings for Allen Fung Ying-lun, political assistant to the development secretary, and Vincent Fung Hao-yin, deputy head of the Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, were also seen as not going far enough. Allen Fung stayed at the party until midnight and was said to be too drunk to recall whether he had a mask on. Meanwhile, party host Hung and other politicians who attended have yet to suffer any political consequences. If the same were to happen on the mainland, probably more heads would have rolled. Some officials there were recently sacked for failing to control the coronavirus. While ministers have been replaced in Hong Kong before, the removal of underperforming officials is an exception rather than the norm. The culture of political accountability needs to be further strengthened in order to enhance the integrity of the appointment system and confidence in it.