Some independent directors in Hong Kong get paid barely more than the average tea lady while some get a handsome salary. Why the big discrepancy? San Miguel Brewery Hong Kong last week announced executive directors Keisuke Nishimura and Motoyasu Ishihara will be paid annual remuneration of HK$50,000. This works out at HK$4,166 per month. Just down the road directors at the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing receive up to half a million dollars a year in remuneration. Some argue that a director's role is not a full-time position and they should only receive a token salary. Other says independent directors play an important role at publicly listed companies. Although they are not full-time, they attend board meetings and represent the interests of small shareholders. It is therefore arguable they should be paid a reasonable fee that matches their duties. Whatever the argument, the huge gap between payments underscores the difficulties companies have in determining pay for non-executive directors. Despite unveiling a second successive decline in annual profit, HKEx gave both staff and non-executive directors a pay rise. This raised another issue of pay not being linked with company performance. HKEx chairman Ronald Arculli's salary rose to HK$500,000 from HK$450,0000 while each of the other 11 non-executive directors had their remuneration increased to HK$350,000, from HK$300,0000. Those who sit on the executive committee, audit committee and the remuneration committee and investment advisory committee receive an extra HK$50,000, unchanged from last year. In addition however a new HK$2,500 attendance fee will be paid to members per meeting to 'reflect the variable workload and time commitment of the above committee member'. The proposed new fee and pay rise need to be approved by shareholders. White Collar found the proposed attendance fee somewhat strange - why pay committee members who already receive HK$50,000 for their committee work a further attendance fee? As members of the committee, it is their duty to attend the meeting; if not, they should have an explanation for their absence. There is no need for a new fee to 'encourage' their attendance. The audit committee last year alone held seven meetings. Assuming they have the same number this year, those who attend all will get HK$17,500 on top of the HK$50,000 committee fee. And the attendance record last year was almost 100 per cent which means the committee members would get this money anyway so why not simply increase the committee fee. The HKEx said increased pay to non-executive directors was 'based on the average annual remuneration of non-executive directors of HSI (Hang Seng) constituent companies as well as overseas listed exchanges'. The bourse operator said the pay rise served to bring remuneration of non-executive directors that has remained unchanged over the past three years closer to that of the market. But what is the market price? HKEx non-executive directors received 10 times the remuneration of San Miguel's non-executive directors and five times those of blue-chip Sun Hung Kai Properties' non-executive directors. SHKP paid its non-executive directors between HK$100,000 and HK$150,000 but gave an additional HK$200,000 a year to those sitting on the audit committee. Bank of China paid its non-executive directors an annual fee of HK$200,000, while Bank of East Asia says its independent directors receive between HK$200,000 and HK$300,000. Companies should be free to determine directors' pay but there should be a more professional standard to work out how to determine that remuneration. It should also be linked to the performance of the companies or the working hours of the independent directors.