It's Washington or bucks

FORMER Secretary for the Civil Service Mr Barrie Wiggham will get a $2 million golden handshake if legislators block his new job in Washington.

The payout, on top of a pension, would be for retiring to make way for a local officer, and would not need Legislative Council approval.

Principal Assistant Secretary for the Civil Service Mr Mike Waters confirmed Mr Wiggham was a potential beneficiary of a special scheme for expatriates leaving the service early.

''If he was directed to leave before the age of 60 he would be eligible for compensation under the limited compensation scheme,'' Mr Waters said.

Mr Wiggham, 56, is expected to retire if he is not given the new job of Hongkong's ''ambassador'' to the US.

Legislators wanting to block the creation of the post, and accompanying purchase of a $20 million residence, yesterday reacted angrily to the news such a move would lead to a golden handshake for Mr Wiggham, expected to be between $1.8 million and $2 million.

''This is wrong. Why should one man be receiving $2 million?'' said Mr Cheung Man-kwong of the United Democrats of Hongkong.

Independent legislator Ms Emily Lau Wai-hing said she had been misled by the Government into believing Legco would be consulted over compensation payouts.

It is understood legislators' approval is not needed because the funds were voted through when Legco approved the setting up of the limited compensation scheme in 1987.

Since then the Government has paid more than $20 million to 19 senior expatriate civil servants and policemen retiring early due to the policy of localising top posts before 1997.