The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said it will pay its staff an average of almost 3 per cent more this year, in contrast to a government decision just months earlier to slash the salaries of about 18,200 senior civil servants by 5.38 per cent. Adding to the confusion is a recommendation that the starting salaries of civil servants with university degrees should be reduced by about HK$2,000. The pay level of government employees is a highly sensitive topic that is usually based on pay trends in the private sector but is often seen as a leading indicator of where corporate wages should be. 'It's not really consistent. With civil service pay cut by more than 5 per cent and Hong Kong Monetary Authority staff getting about 3 per cent more, the gap is about 8 per cent,' unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said. 'As long as these people get taxpayers' money, the level of government pay should be consistent.' The authority's pay hike in the current environment reinforced the notion that the financial sector could act independently of the general market, Lee said. Former authority head Joseph Yam Chi-kwong was paid more than HK$10 million a year, including his bonus. The authority, a government department, said an annual pay review by the governance subcommittee of the Exchange Fund Advisory Committee recommended that staff wages be increased by an average of 2.94 per cent. One-off variable payments averaging 2.3 months' salary will be awarded to individual staff based on their performance. Last year, the fixed pay of authority staff was frozen while variable payments averaging two months' salary was paid. The subcommittee's recommendation is used by the financial secretary along with other findings from independent consultants in the financial sector to determine the pay level of the authority's staff each year. Critics argue that compensation at financial firms is usually not a useful barometer in determining salary levels for the authority's staff given the rich pay packages at banks. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, which many financial firms are accused of contributing to, executive pay has come under scrutiny with growing calls to impose restrictions on bankers' pay. Last month, the authority told all banks to curb executive packages by linking them to a risk management system.