The Executive Council may discuss whether to proceed with a controversial review of civil service pay levels this month amid calls to cut salaries. It is understood the review is gathering momentum, with the Civil Service Bureau drafting a discussion paper and striving to submit it to the Executive Council - the top decision-making body - for debate before Christmas. Results of the review will affect the 178,000-strong civil service. The Government estimates about $70 billion will be spent on civil service salaries and related expenses this financial year. A government source said it was hoped to put the issue on the agenda of Exco before Christmas. If the Civil Service Bureau fails to submit the issue before Christmas it will try to arrange a slot before the Lunar New Year. The source said: 'Although there is no rush, we have to proceed with the matter and be accountable to the public as senior officials have said the administration will consider reviewing pay levels. 'There are other studies such as the annual pay trend survey on the private sector to be conducted as well. We need to get things done.' Secretary for Civil Service Joseph Wong Wing-ping has said the Government may consider reviewing civil servants' pay levels but has not given any timetable. Pay levels were last reviewed in 1987 in an operation which took two years to complete. Differences have arisen between the civil service and administration over how to compare fairly jobs, such as that of police officer, that cannot be matched in the private sector. Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said the review should not be conducted when the economy was still performing badly. 'It may turn out our salaries will be cut. We don't want to see our income fluctuate a lot. We hope the review can be carried out when the economy improves - it may improve by the end of next year,' he said. Executive councillor Tam Yiu-chung said Mr Wong had indicated at a lunch with legislators that the Government wanted the review as pay levels had not been reassessed for more than 10 years. 'However, I am worried that the issue may be controversial . . .it has to be handled very carefully,' he said. Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said civil servants would always claim the time was not right to conduct such research. 'The overhaul may take one to two years. By that time, the economy may have improved. I think we should start to conduct the review now,' he said. He agreed it would be hard to find jobs in the private sector to match with disciplined services and said their pay should not be compared directly. A Civil Service Bureau spokesman said it would not comment on Exco issues.