It was a silent and orderly protest. But when a group of officers from five disciplined services marched to the Central Government Offices on Sunday, they certainly made waves. Indeed, the scenes of officers from the uniformed forces taking to the streets has unnerved the public, confronting their sense of order and stability. Whether done deliberately or unwittingly, a protest banner with the slogan: 'Discussion without decision, decision without execution' has touched the most sensitive nerve of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his team. The phrase was first uttered by former premier Zhu Rongji in comments on the governance of Hong Kong under Tung Chee-hwa. The disciplined forces have vented their frustration over what they claim is the government's refusal to implement a grade-structure review that was released last November. Compiled by an appointed commission, the report recommended a pay rise for long service at lower levels. At a time when Hong Kong has slipped into recession, the government has decided to tread carefully to avoid a backlash over a pay rise for the disciplined services. Any feelings of patience and understanding among officers evaporated following a government decision to cut senior civil servants' pay by 5.38 per cent, in keeping with the findings of an annual pay-trend survey. The middle and lower ranks, meanwhile, will see their pay frozen. The Police Inspectors' Association has challenged the survey of salaries in the private sector, saying the findings were flawed. The issue became more complicated when the association renewed a long-standing demand for a separate pay system. The association will stage a protest on Sunday to express its 'extreme anger and disappointment'. Speaking after meeting major staff unions, Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue Chung-yee denied that the government was using delaying tactics. A report on the commission's recommendation would be submitted to the Executive Council in the autumn, she said. Separately, Mr Tsang said the row over police pay would be resolved through the existing mechanism. On the face of it, any dispute should be resolved through the existing pay mechanism, which has been revised with the consent of the government and union representatives. In reality, however, the erosion of mutual trust and understanding over the whole issue of civil service pay has bred endless, and at times bitter, disputes. Under the pay adjustment mechanism, civil service pay would have been cut by 0.96 per cent for the lower ranks, 1.98 per cent for the middle ranks and 5.38 per cent for senior officials. This across-the-board cut has been dropped. Instead, only senior civil servants will have their pay reduced. The police inspectors' body said it would oppose the cut. Disciplined service officers want to know why the government was quick to implement a pay cut, but slow to process the wage structure review results. If implemented, the wage-structure review would result in a modest pay rise for certain officers. In view of the large-scale pay cuts in the private sector, it is not surprising that the demands of the disciplined services and civil service unions have not won support from the public. Worse, their calls have made a mockery of the government's pledge to ride out the difficult times with the people. The political stakes in the pay row are high, and it is unlikely that the government will bow to pressure from the unions. Nor will the dispute be over soon. Ordinary citizens would view the pay row with increased doubt and cynicism if they found that the rules were being bent for political imperatives and self-interest. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.