THE Government has paid out $20 million to expatriate officers for early retirement to make way for local staff to take up senior posts. Eighteen senior officers mostly from the administrative service and the police force have benefited under the Limited Compensation Scheme introduced in 1987. All were asked to go before the normal retirement age of 57. The Government estimated that 100 overseas officers could be affected by localisation before 1997 and have to be compensated before then. Among the 18 top officers, two have been given more than $2 million as compensation. The highest payout was $2.3 million because the officer was asked to go more than six years before his retirement age. The others received compensation of less than $1.4 million. All these officers were compensated as the Government said they suffered in terms of their career prospects as a result of localisation. These expatriate officers were selected as potential local staff were identified as having the suitable qualifications to replace them if given the chance. The current ceiling of compensation is $2.7 million and is revised upwards every year with the annual adjustment of the salary level. At the time the scheme was introduced six years ago, the ceiling was $900,000. The maximum payout is fixed by taking into account the officer's age, length of service and his choice of pension scheme. Principal Secretary for the Civil Service Mr Mike Waters said the scheme was a measure to comply with the provision in the Basic Law. The Basic Law says that the 22 top government posts should be occupied by permanent residents of the Special Administrative Region who are Chinese citizens with no right of abode in any foreign country. The Hongkong Government plans to localise the 22 posts before the end of 1995 to allow officers to gain experience before the transition in 1997. Mr Waters said it was difficult to estimate how many officers had to be compensated by 1995 since some would leave of their own free will and some would be near their retirement age. Under the scheme, expatriate officers due for promotion would also be entitled to compensation but no officer has been compensated so far. Chairman of the Senior Non-expatriate Officers Association Mr John Luk Woon-cheung described the limited compensation as ''tolerable'' as part of a government attempt to localise the top posts. ''It is a give and take situation that expatriate officers are paid to leave while local officers have a chance to be groomed to the top,'' Mr Luk said. ''It is a tolerable policy and a device to make way for local officers.'' Mr Luk hoped the management would implement the scheme fairly both in identifying the potential local officers and in calculating the compensation for expatriates. He said the plan to groom local officers might be difficult and complicated since some had planned to leave the civil service before 1997.