It was a matter of time before Ng Eng Hen's earnings as a doctor in the private sector would crop up in the profile high case of Dr Susan Lim. After all, both had a penchant for signing off big bills during their heydays.
According to Owain Stone, forensic accountant author of the KordaMentaNeo 31-page expert report commissioned by Susan Lim, Dr Ng Eng Hen earned $4.5 million before swapping out his surgeon garb for politics in 2001. By comparison, Susan Lim raked in $4.6 million in 2003. We don't know whether Stone had access to Ng's income tax returns, or merely extrapolated from the maiden press conference with Goh Chok Tong during which he declared his financial sacrifice to serve the people of Singapore: "You're getting a bargain for the ministers you get... I worked half as much and earn 5 times more when I was in the private sector." (Channelnewsasia, 9 Sept 2003)
Why the sudden altruism? A close examination of the the tabulation of Susan Lim's 2002-2008 takings provide some clues. Her salary and director's fees varied from $3.2m to $334,000, as her total earnings fluctuated from $13.26m to $1.38m. That's more ups and downs than the Battlestar Galactica roller coaster ride at Universal Studios Sentosa. For Ng, since August 2004, he has been enjoying a guaranteed million dollar steady ride, plus the regular GDP performance bonuses and other perks of office. Without the twists and turns of a stomach churning career in the private sector. Susan Lim is actually saying that her practice is technically bankrupt.
Talk about wild rides. John Sculley (Pepsico 1970–1983) was personally lured by founder Steve Jobs to become CEO of Apple in 1983. Subsequently his power struggle with Steve Jobs resulted in latter being booted out by the board in 1985. By May 1987, Sculley was named Silicon Valley's top-paid executive, with an annual salary of US$2.2m. The "Sculley Era" finally ended after he was forced out in 1993. In the real world, job security is not a given.
Industry experts knew Susan Lim was betting big. One company valuation expert said the upside to her Brunei assignment was huge: "If this job had gone smoothly... there would be tremendous benefits for her reputation. With such a high profile client, her business could have gone sky high." Instead of just her pair of hands exhibited at Madam Tussuad's, her wax statue may be competing for space with the likes of world celebrities and movie stars.
There's an upside for Ng too. If he masters the art of keeping his mouth shut (no shooting off about more jobs going to Singaporeans instead of foreigners, tweaking the weightage for mother tongue languages, etc), he could take a stab at the elected presidency during his evening years. That's $4m a year for 6 years, guaranteed income from the taxpayers.