Recall that Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen once said “You’re getting a bargain for the ministers you get… I worked half as much and earn(ed) five times more when I was in the private sector.” (Channelnewsasia, 9 September 2003). That set everybody (including Goh Chok Tong who was seated next to him at same press conference) wondering if he was dumb to sign on, or just plain bullshitting.
Straits Times decided to tell us what we were supposed to know all along: "It is public knowledge that top surgeons like Dr Ng Eng Hen, prior to joining government service, earned a income of $4.5 million in 2001." What is not public knowledge is whether 2001 was a bonanza year for Ng, or he was consistently invoicing super-sized bills. But we do know that, based on the current ministerial salary of $1.6 million (before add-ons like mid-term, year-end, GDP indexed bonuses, etc), the 2001 number is definitely less than the 5-fold he rattered off. There's another key difference to note. Those in the private sector knows that pay can go up and go down - even Steve Jobs was jobless when his board kicked him out of Apple in May1985- but ministers' payola is recession free and guaranteed. Even when they turn complacent and let terrorists escape through the toilet window.
Ng's name was brought up as illustrative of how brazen Singapore doctors can be when billing for their services.
Dr Khoo Kei Siong, deputy director of Parkway Cancer Centre, reportedly quoted $300,000 for a 30-minute overseas consultation that took less than 3 days including travelling time - the first class air ticket and hotel accommodation are extra costs. Dr Goh Seng Heng, a general practioner once billed $55,000 for 2.5 hours of treatment spread over 15 days. He also charged an Indonesian client $3,000 an hour for the 17 hours of travel and treatment he undertook. Professor Soo Khee Chee, head of the National Cancer Centre and one of 3 witnesses for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), said Dr Susan Lim could have charged her Brunei client up $300,000 without batting an eyelid - just for the good doctor's service, all extras to be billed separately.
Ng is current Minister of Education, and the $10.9 billion budget allocated for 2011 is second highest, right after Defence. Let's hope he hasn't carried over the billing philosophy of his private practice days.