Another hot, muggy spring is upon us, but Hong Kong's top civil servants are not breaking into a sweat. They are buying up the finest air-conditioners in town, courtesy of the taxpayer. An annual $344,000 air-conditioning allowance - available to directorate-level staff hired before 1999 - enables them to do so. It is but one of several perks that make civil service pay cuts such a sexy issue. It is also among several small gems to be found in the bowels of this year's budget that border on the curious, if not ridiculous. Where civil service expenses are concerned, there are, of course, bigger headline numbers: such as close to $1 billion in passage allowances over the past three years. This includes the Long and Meritorious Service Travel Award Scheme, which allows 'recreational overseas travel for local non-directorate officers and their spouses, in recognition of long and meritorious service'. Personal allowances in the coming financial year will top $1 billion and home financing is almost $2 billion. But the government need not fear: civil servants are also doing their bit for efficiency. There is, after all, an incentive to do so: the staff suggestions and motivation schemes. This year, an estimated $160,000 will be paid to civil servants who 'have made valuable suggestions to improve the efficiency of the civil service and for sustaining the commitment of civil servants to the performance pledge programmes and to continuous improvement of service through educational programmes, publicity and awards'. The chance of pay cuts being among these 'valuable suggestions' seems somewhat remote. Such dedication to the cause, however, comes at a cost. Long hours and arduous brain-storming prompted a $1.5 million outlay by policymakers at the Civil Service Bureau for a Work Life Balance Campaign. But taxpayers can take heart because, at least at the top level of government, there is still time for fun. The Chief Executive this year can look forward to a $729,600 non-accountable entertainment allowance. With tough times ahead for Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's team, including an imminent National People's Congress Standing Committee reinterpretation of the Basic Law, he is going to be in need of the odd knees-up. This is, of course, not the first time the government has sought Beijing's interpretation of Hong Kong's mini-constitution. It thus seems somewhat ironic to see the Constitutional Affairs Bureau earmark $34.9 million next year for, among other things, 'the promotion of public awareness and understanding of the Basic Law'. Many would argue it is not the public that has failed to grasp its meaning. The government is, however, sensitive to what the public thinks and feels. This year, it will spend $1.39 million carrying out surveys and reviews of the satisfaction and needs of the community. Quite how the results will shape policy to meet these needs or improve the government's public rating is not mentioned. But at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, it has already been established that poverty is looming large on the policy radar. So the government has jumped straight in with an outlay of up to $19.7 million. This is, however, to create nine posts at the equally needy Commission on Poverty. Also big on the community relations front last year - at least on paper - was the Independent Commission Against Corruption. A total of 1,310 business organisations were contacted by the graft body's community relations department. Of these, 341 were listed companies visited under the Business Ethics Promotion Programme to 'foster the support and commitment of their senior management to ethical management and good corporate governance'. Local firms may be notorious for their ability to show favours in return for a little stock ramp but it seems the ICAC too is prone to the odd gratuity. Presumably $15.26 million is for hot tip-offs from whistle-blowers but Hong Kong's champion of transparency and accountability says only that the cash is 'expenditure on rewards and services of a confidential nature'. Other law enforcers are bracing for a busy year, although quite why Hong Kong's top judge earns an entertainment allowance of $300,000 - double that of Secretary of Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie - is not mentioned. It can only be hoped that this is to ensure there is no question of the judge being compromised by accepting a free lunch and not because he feels the need to cut loose more often than Ms Leung. There is, however, the added burden of administering the magistrate's poor box. This year, the government dipped into its pocket to the tune of $8,000 to help needy cases. It is, after all, the small things that count.