WORKING on the basis that Dr Samuel Johnson knew what he was talking about when he said ''There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money'', the Hongkong Government has traditionally avoided interfering in the private sector. That hands-off spirit is to be continued with the introduction of the Occupational Retirement Scheme, according to Financial Services Secretary Michael Cartland, who addressed members of the Hongkong Investment Funds Association over lunch yesterday. How the spoons must have tinkled against the coffee cups as he assured members that the intention behind the ordinance was to enable fund managers to invest retirement scheme funds with the minimum of regulatory supervision consistent with the protection of beneficiaries' interests. Quite rightly, Mr Cartland warned that there was a danger of too much regulation leading to the establishment of a large and expensive bureaucracy, the costs of which would ultimately be borne by the beneficiaries and their employers. What future pensioners want is the maximum amount of return on the contributions they have made to providing for their old age. They don't want to see money frittered away in wages, rents and administration costs run up by a bunch of bureaucrats. But nor will they wish to run the risk of seeing yet more of their entitlement disappear through incompetence or worse by those entrusted with investing on their behalf. The costs of monitoring the funds will still have to be paid. In Hongkong's case the money will be earned by professionals who will certificate the funds and ensure that the ordinance's provisions are met. The main principles will be the separation of assets, sufficient funding, independent auditing of scheme accounts and information disclosure. Very commendable, and quite rightly there is no mention of requiring a minimum level of performance beyond that required to make sure the beneficiaries are paid what they are owed, when they are owed it. Performance measurement is tricky enough without the introduction of too many arbitrary goals for managers. The market will have to decide who wins the mandates. How different the reaction might have been if yesterday's audience had been made up of informed beneficiaries of pension plans. Their concern would be the vulnerability of poorly regulated schemes, and Mr Cartland would have been called upon to ensure that the mechanism existed for the pensioners themselves to police schemes, and call administrators to account if necessary. It has already taken too long for the establishment of a formal pension scheme in Hongkong. Further delays are unacceptable, but before the Bill comes into operation - several months hence, according to Mr Cartland - a look at the mistakes made in the United Kingdom, and the safeguards developed in the United States and the Netherlands would not go amiss. In America there is a mythical but useful chap called ''the prudent man''. Fund managers must ask themselves what he would do with the money entrusted to him, and then do it themselves. Failure to do so can open fund managers to action by pensioners. He would be a welcome immigrant to Hongkong.