The top salary taxpayer in Hong Kong earned about $162 million last year. The Inland Revenue Department said the person, whom it would not name nor even say was a man or woman, has to pay $24.4 million tax. The same taxpayer had also topped the previous year's list. While the top earner took in more than the combined salaries of Governor Chris Patten and his 18 policy secretaries, his taxable income was nearly two-thirds less than the previous year's. Income in the previous tax year had been $460 million, on which $69 million tax was paid. The year before that, the highest tax bill for a single salary earner had been a record $117 million. The $162 million pay package of this year's top earner works out to earning $13.5 million a month, or $450,000 a day (working 30 days a month). The top five salaried taxpayers assessed in the fiscal year 1996-97 are to pay tax, at the full rate of 15 per cent, of $24.4 million, $12.4 million, $11.6 million, $10.6 million and $10.4 million. Their cheques will stuff $69.4 million into the government kitty. The department said all five come from the private sector and their tax had been assessed on all income chargeable to salaries tax, including share benefits. Tim Lui, a partner with accountants Coopers & Lybrand, said the big decline in taxable income this year was likely to have been the result of the economy's performance rather than a pay cut. He said the tax paid by an employee would not reach tens of millions of dollars on annual salary alone. The taxable income would have to include share options. Had employees of some of the biggest companies in Hong Kong been offered share options as part of their perks, they might have cashed in on the 37 per cent rise in HSBC shares, worth $116.50 in April 1996, the 42 per cent jump in Hutchison, the 35 per cent in Sun Hung Kai Properties or the 61 per cent in Cheung Kong's stock. 'The sharp decrease in income this year showed there was a reduction of such options being exercised in the year,' Mr Lui said.