WHAT A TICKLE it gives me when civil servants are outraged by hard evidence of their outrageous pay packets. Two years ago, the General Chamber of Commerce hired human resources specialists Watson Wyatt Worldwide to do a survey of Hong Kong civil service pay. They found that on a like-for-like basis, our civil servants were paid 229 per cent more in cash and benefits than their private sector equivalents. The chamber declared these results 'alarming' and suggested civil servants be told that 'in view of the large discrepancy in pay with the private sector, it may be difficult for them to have general pay increases in the near future - even if and when the economy recovers and the private sector starts to give pay increases again'. And now guess whom the government has just given the job of comparing civil service and private sector pay for the purposes of its much delayed pay review. You have it, Watson Wyatt Worldwide, and this just after our new ambassador from Beijing, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, assured civil servants that they need not worry about their pay and benefits under him. Yes, they are now up in arms and, yes, it gives me a tickle. A number of them wrote to me in protest the last time I cited the chamber of commerce survey and my advice to them now is the same as it was then - prove it was wrong or shut up. I am still waiting for that proof and certainly did not see it in yesterday's news report, in which we quoted a spokesman for the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, Peter Wong Hyo, accusing Watson Wyatt of biased methodologies to produce distorted findings. 'It just used the salary data readily available from its database to do the comparison,' he said. Well, what else did you expect the people at Watson Wyatt to use, Mr Wong? Find me a better database than the one they maintain for this kind of survey. They are professionals in this business and, unlike you, they have no axe to grind. In that survey two years ago, they covered 76 job families comprising about 69,000 jobs in the civil service and excluded jobs unique to government such as those in the disciplined services. This is comprehensive by any definition and, even if the results were in error to some extent, they were so astounding that the basic message remained. The table shows these results. The notation P75 makes the assumption that the mid range of any government pay scale should be compared to a level of 75 per cent up the equivalent private sector pay scale on the grounds that civil servants are worth more. Make your own judgment. I am inclined to the reverse ratio. P50 is a straight like-for-like comparison. What you get on P75 measure with a straight salary comparison alone is civil servants are paid 17 per cent more than private sector equivalents. But take the P50, a better measure, include the value of all perks and benefits, and you get an average excess pay in the civil service of 229 per cent. Take note that this was 229 per cent more than. It was 329 per cent of the private sector equivalent. Staggering, isn't it? Note also that pay discrepancy was wider in the civil service than in the private sector. At maximum pay levels, the civil service excess in total remuneration was 264 per cent on the P50 measure. We have evidence of it in figures our government publishes as well. The red line in the chart shows you an inflation index of compensation of government employees. The blue line shows you an inflation index for the overall private sector side of the economy. Growing overpayment has been a trend in the civil service for a long time. Sputter and rage, if you will, you bureaucrats. You have been spotted. Watson Wyatt is the right paymaster's hatchet man for you.