Many of Hong Kong's listed companies have missed yesterday's deadline for bringing a third independent, non-executive director onto their boards. It is likely that the stock exchange will extend the deadline for those firms that can prove they made an effort to fill the posts. But the problem is clearly not lack of time as the new requirement has been in place since this time last year. Setting new deadlines without addressing these other issues will simply leave us in the same place months from now. We are bound to hear the usual refrain from companies about there not being enough qualified people to appoint. It is hard to believe they could be talking about Hong Kong, with its well-developed financial markets and many accounting professionals. The reason is more likely that the rewards being offered, monetary and otherwise, are not enough to counterbalance the growing responsibilities and risk associated with being an independent director. Non-executive directors' pay in Hong Kong averages $150,000 a year - less than half that offered in Britain and roughly one-fifth of US levels. Some companies pay as little as $10,000 annually. Meanwhile, there are two worldwide trends from which Hong Kong is not exempt. One is that non-executive directors are being asked to play more of a watchdog role, representing minority shareholders' interests and chairing important committees on pay and audits. The other has corporate boards facing more scrutiny and liability for anything that goes wrong at a company. The intention of Hong Kong's regulators to follow through on the latter could be seen last week, when the Securities and Futures Commission succeeded in its first prosecution of a firm for issuing false or misleading information. Huafeng Textile International Group and one of its directors were each fined $50,000 for statements issued in July last year. Given the paltry compensation offered by many local companies and the trouble independent directors are letting themselves in for, it is little wonder that few find it worth the bother of stepping forward. Or as City University economics professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung put it to the South China Morning Post recently: 'With that kind of money, you are not going to risk your reputation unless you know the company very well.' In this environment, only the best-managed companies will have luck attracting candidates, while the poorly managed ones will struggle - a formula almost guaranteeing that the latter will struggle to improve. At the heart of the matter is the question of how to foster the professionalism of the post of independent, non-executive director. Whereas in the past such a position might have been viewed as something prestigious to add to one's resume but not requiring much commitment, today it is a more crucial post. After Enron and similar scandals, adequately qualified and independent boards are seen as a key to better corporate governance. The Hong Kong Institute of Directors put forward some proposals last year, including better training and perhaps an accreditation system for newly appointed directors and those interested in serving. More than a year later, the accreditation idea has virtually disappeared, while training programmes are strictly voluntary. Even mainland bourses require training in market regulations and the like for new company directors. This week's deadline comes after a spate of reports putting Hong Kong somewhere in the middle of the field or lagging at the bottom when it comes to corporate disclosure and the independence of company boards. In one survey, based on annual reports issued in five regional markets, our blue chips came in behind those in Malaysia and Singapore. There is no doubt the deadline will be extended for some firms, but that is not all that is needed. Companies should also take a hard look at the compensation and support they are offering for a job that is more demanding than it has ever been.