THE Government yesterday warned that a Pandora's box would be opened if an independent committee of inquiry was set up to decide whether it should pay its 190,000 staff an alleged salary shortfall. Legislators passed a motion by a voice vote last night to urge the Government to set up such a committee to resolve the disputes arising from the 3.52 per cent shortfall claimed by the civil servants' unions. Acting Secretary for the Civil Service Stuart Harbinson said at the end of a Legco debate there would be all sorts of controversies if the committee was set up. Staff have demanded an extra 3.52 per cent on top of their yearly pay rises in recent years to compensate for what they consider to be a shortfall in wage increases in 1990 and 1991. The total pay rises in the two years were 3.52 per cent short of the then private sector pay trend surveys. Mr Harbinson said an inquiry would run against both the public and the staff interests. ''A committee of inquiry is justified only if there is a major policy involved,'' he said. He said it would be impossible to confine the inquiry within the 3.52 per cent shortfall. The basic mechanism of calculating pay rises would probably be reconsidered also, as there had been many claims from the community that the formula favoured civil servants, he said. ''This seemingly rather innocuous motion would, if put into practice, open a veritable Pandora's box.'' He said the policy on civil servants' pay aimed at broad comparability with the private sector, in which the Government had succeeded. But legislators accused Mr Harbinson of alarmist talk. Most of them asked the Government to allow a third party to arbitrate and solve the deadlock. Pro-China legislator Tam Yiu-chung, who moved the motion, said there were precedents for the Government to compensate civil servants. He said the Government had compensated for shortfalls in pay increases in 1975 and 1985. Liberal Party legislator Lau Wah-sum urged that the problem be solved without further delay. ''If there is no satisfactory solution, the stability of the civil service might be shaken,'' he said. Banking legislator David Li Kwok-po said the Government should have the courage to reverse a wrong decision. He said the administration should have the courage to admit that it had made a miscalculation.