LEGISLATIVE Councillors' assistants are quaking in their boots. This may be due to the cold weather. Not all assistants are paid enough to replace worn-out footwear at the onset of winter - especially if the same pedal ventilation might save them air-conditioning bills later in the year. But David Li, a banker whose staff can hope for decent pay, worries they may have other, more sinister reasons for cold feet. It is disclosure he fears, not exposure. Mr Li was in fighting form. Not a smile crossed his normally jovial features as he laid into the acting Chief Secretary. Armed only with the righteousness of his indignation and the certainty of support from his fellow legislators, he stood to defend the privacy and personal safety of his staff. Why was it, he fumed, that while Executive Councillors were allowed to treat disclosure of their financial dealings as a matter between themselves and the Governor, legislators were required to disclose for public inspection, not only the salaries paid to individual staff, but also their identities? Exco members were allowed a degree of privacy for themselves and their families. Why did this consideration not apply to legislative assistants? They were, after all, 'private citizens of the territory, neither appointed nor elected to public office, nor members of the civil service'. Unfortunately, he failed to penetrate Michael Leung's bureaucratic armour. Not a fair analogy, said Mr Leung. Assistants were paid out of public funds. The public had the right to know how legislators used their allowances. It was a matter of accountability, transparency and credibility. 'I frankly cannot see how the personal safety of Legco members' assistants will be threatened,' he concluded, 'simply because their names and salaries are made available for public inspection.' Well, that surely depends who they are and what their duties involve, doesn't it? Let's suppose for a moment someone's assistant is a mainland dissident, secretly granted asylum in Hong Kong. Or maybe he or she has been asked to infiltrate the ranks of the opposing political party. Perhaps we'd better not speculate any further on that front, in case we jeopardise someone's safety. But taking Mr Leung's argument to its logical conclusion, shouldn't the Government run a public register of undercover policemen, ICAC investigators and their informers on the grounds that the public has a right to know who its money is spent on? Curiously, no one chose to pursue this line of argument. But it was Chim Pui-chung, the man with the golden Rolls-Royce, who finally stuck a probing finger right into those gaping holes in the footwear. What worried that champion of workers' rights and harmonious industrial relations was the distressing effect the disclosure of salaries could have on staff morale. He called on Mr Leung to imagine the feelings of the assistant who discovered his counterparts working for other legislators (or even, Heaven forfend, for the same legislator) were earning a higher salary than he. Liberal Party stalwarts threw up their capitalist hands in horror. Democrats sniggered. Michael Leung looked sympathetic. Individual legislators' difficulties, he smiled, would of course be looked at with understanding. Perhaps that wasn't quite the kind of support Mr Li had expected.