IT IS TIME for someone to drop a copy of a five-month old General Chamber of Commerce survey back on the desk of Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung. You may have forgotten it, but let us hope that Mr Leung has not. This survey and a judicial decision on Tuesday, whereby civil servants effectively scored an own goal in their attempts to keep their pay packages intact, now give Mr Leung all the ammunition he needs to start bringing those pay packages back in line with the private sector. The survey showed that civil servants are on average paid 229 per cent more than their private sector counterparts on a total compensation basis, including all perks and benefits. Take note that this figure is 229 per cent more than, not 229 per cent of. In other words, civil service pay is on average three times as much as private sector pay. These findings were so astonishing that the Chamber of Commerce felt compelled to soft-pedal them when publishing the results of the survey. The chamber must live with government officials and did not wish to endanger those relationships by giving offence. It therefore chose to highlight only the lowest disparity figure it could find in the survey results, which was 17 per cent. This 17 per cent, however, represents only cash compensation (salary, cash allowances, bonuses) and excludes comparisons of benefits (such as medical, travel, educational, housing, retirement and stock options), which is where civil service pay really outstrips the private sector. The 17 per cent also compared the mid-range of pay for any civil service job against a pay level 75 per cent up the scale for the equivalent private sector job. This was done on the reasoning that 'we recognise that the average civil servants should be compared with the better performers in the total workforce'. Make up your own mind whether this is true. I cannot see why it should be and, in fact, can think of good reasons why the reverse should apply. Unwind these anomalies to do all the calculations on a like-for-like basis, which is the proper comparison, and you get the 229 per cent figure. In fact, you can get an even higher figure. The survey showed that a comparison of maximum pay in equivalent jobs had civil servants making 264 per cent more than their private sector counterparts. Nor have civil servants managed to get far in pooh-poohing the results of this survey. It was conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, who are human resource specialists, and they compared 76 'job families' covering 69,000 civil servants with the private sector equivalents in their own database. I received a number of e-mails from civil servants protesting these figures when I first presented them in this column in January, but their rebuttals were mostly along the 'I don't believe it' line with few substantive arguments as to why the survey results could be false. Let us put it to the test, however. Civil servants went to court in an attempt to get a ruling that the Basic Law does not allow government to cut their pay and Mr Justice Michael Hartmann has now ruled that the Basic Law does allow government to do so. In effect, civil servants have themselves cleared the way for further cuts of their own compensation, a classic own goal, and the next step is now for Mr Leung to determine from a survey he commissions whether the Chamber of Commerce one was correct. He may indeed find that it overstated the disparity between the public and private sectors, but it is highly unlikely that he will find the disparity on re-examination to be small. The Watson Wyatt survey was a professional one, professionally commissioned and professionally conducted, and no rehash of the numbers is likely to bring that 229 per cent figure down by much. Mr Leung can give himself a little breathing space until the results of this survey are in, but then he will be put to the real test of the government's commitment to reduce its fiscal deficit. Will he be ready then to make the truly big cuts, to put up with the piercing screams he will get from the civil service, to assure the rest of us that fair is fair and our own taxes will not be used again to make it unfair for us? I rate that Chamber of Commerce survey in January as a superb service to the general public. It is the ball with which civil servants scored their own goal.