Thursday, March 31, 2011
What Work Did You Do to Justify Your Charges?
Singaporeans have never been known for their sense of irony. While the population has never been known to appreciate irony, Singapore has more than its fair share of it. The most recent example of grand irony has been in the case of Dr Susan Lim versus the Singapore Medical Council.
It's ironic because the man who has been most vigorously attacking Dr Susan Lim for being "greedy" in the act of "overcharging" the Royal Family of Brunei for medical services performed between January and July 2007 has been non other than Mr Alvin Yeo, SC (Senior Counsel - Singapore's version of the QC), the Senior Partner at Wong Partnership, one of Singapore's largest local law firms. As well as being a very prominent lawyer with impecable credentials, Mr Yeo is also a Member of Parliament for Hong Kah GRC and Chairman of the Government Comity for Home Affairs and Law. He also serves on the board of directors for a number of public listed companies.
Mr Yeo has spent the better part of the month trying to show the world that Dr Lim is a greedy little money grabbing tart who has abused the noble profession of medicine to make money. As far as Mr Yeo has been concerned, Dr Lim has betrayed every standard of ethical propitiatory in order to chase the almighty dollar. Leaving aside the merits of Mr Yeo's case into Dr Lim - one might be tempted to ask Mr Yeo is he's guilty of the very things that he's been accusing Dr Lim of.
Let's put things in perspective. As excessive as Dr Lim's S$25million bill may sound, it was a bill that was issued by a thriving medical business and it was for work done over a period. The fact is, had that S$25 million been paid, most of the money would have gone to cover expenses that Dr Lim incurred by caring for the patient, including the building of an ICU infrastructure and transplanting it via private jet (paid by her business). Fact remains that of that S$25million, Dr Lim would probably only received S$3.5 million, which was her annual salary for running the group.
Dr Lim does run a vast and very successful operation, which was recently valued at some S$80million. While this fact may not endure her to Singaporeans who are convinced of her greed, Dr Lim has been a successful entrepreneur as much as she's been a doctor. She has placed her personal money into the operation. She has taken on personal risk in starting an enterprise and it's a rule of business that the person who takes on the risk gets the lion's share of the rewards for the success of the business (she would also take the lions share of the cost if the business fails). Dr Lim may be making a lot of money, but she is also responsible for feeding over 30 people as well as caring for her patients. In short, that hefty salary that she earns is measured by the work that she does. If she fails in her work, not only does she lose her business and work but at least 30 additional souls get thrown out of work.
Mr Yeo by contrast has it relatively easy and like Dr Lim, he's no pauper. If Dr Lim can be accused of running a "scam," Mr Yeo's "scam" makes Dr Lim's look like child play. Mr Yeo has found a way of minting money without assuming any of the risk and responsibility that Dr Lim has.
Let's start with his day job. As the Senior Partner at Wong Partnership, one can expect Mr Yeo to take home nothing less than S$50,000 a month. What exactly does he do to earn this money? Well, just as no one doubts Dr Lim's talents as a surgeon, nobody is doubting Mr Yeo's talents as a litigator. I've heard him argue. He's articulate and logical when he presents his case. He's also good at disturbing his opponents. He knows how to play up to the public gallery as much as he does the judge.
So, I guess you could say Mr Yeo deserves his money from his day job in that many of the firms clients are there because of him. However, most of the leg work is done by his juniors (approximately 300 lawyers under him and let's not forget the paralegals) and let's face it - Mr Yeo was the founder of his firm and the personal risk he faces from the success or failure of the firm are negligible, especially when compared to the risk that Dr Lim faces.
While Dr Lim's income is derived from the business she has started and runs, Mr Yeo has done something even better. He's found a host of part-time jobs the supplement the income he makes from his full time job. His part time jobs also involve very little actual work for generous pay.
Let's start with his various directorships. What exactly does a board of directors do in public company? The answer is they look after the interest of the shareholders and they keep the CEO on his toes. The board of directors does not get involved with the day-to-day management of the company and they get paid not ungenerous fees to attend the usual yearly annual general meeting. They protect the shareholders by signing off on the report presented to them by the CEO and signed off by external auditors. So, if you think about it, what Mr Yeo is doing is very clever. He attends enough board meetings to enjoy enough swanky meals. Reads through a few annual reports and gets paid a decent sum for say a days work.
His directorships are, however, nothing when compared to his main part-time job - namely that as Member of Parliament for Hong Kah GRC. What does this part-time job take from him and give to him?
The answer is simple. He is required to listen to his constituents whine for about an hour a week. Once in a while he may be required to visit a few people and may be grace a few events. His comity work will involve maybe another two hours a month.
In return for doing all of this, he receives an allowance (Note - this is an ALLOWANCE not a SALARY) of a mere S$15,000 a month (around S$1,875 per hour worked). As long he serves two terms (10-years), he's entitled to this for life. He is also entitled to a pension which around two thirds of the allowance.
What he does not receive in money, he more than makes up for in the prestige of being a Member of Parliament. Wherever he goes, people will be aware of the fact that not only does Mr Yeo argue laws, he has a role in making them.
What risk does this part time job entail? Well, in theory he has to face the voters every five-years. However, Hong Kah has been a "walk-over" constituency - so he's never had to face the buggers who pay him for visiting them. Then let's look at this way - the work that he needs to do for his weekly visits are actually performed by volunteers in the grassroots.
As an MP, Mr Yeo is running one of the most impressive enterprises in the world. Everything that you make is gross and net to you. The cost are either borne by the State or by volunteers who want nothing better than the chance to say they licked your boots.
At the very least, Mr Yeo makes S$65,000 a month. This figure may not be as impressive as the S$25million that Dr Lim is supposed to have billed. However, it's far more secure. To date, Dr Lim has yet to receive a penny for the work that she did. The cost have had to be written off. By contrast, Mr Yeo's monthly salary is guaranteed and long as he stays within the comfort of his full and part-time job.
Which leads to the question? Why does Mr Yeo need to have an MP's allowance and pension when he's making the money he's making? Then you have to look at the fact that Mr Yeo, like Dr Lim is doing "Noble" professions. Lawyers are supposed to be interested in justice rather than in money. Being a Member of Parliament is ALL ABOUT SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY. The member does NOT receive a SALARY but an allowance to cover things like transport (which in Singapore is negligible).
So, why doesn't Mr Yeo public ally announce that he's going to forgo one of his incomes and continue to do two jobs. That would be called "service to the community." His income as a the Senior Partner at the Wong Partnership is more than enough to cover the expenses he runs up on state business as an MP.
Mr Yeo made this point in court - "What work did Dr Lim do that could possibly justify her charges?" I would like to ask Mr Yeo the same thing - a significant portion of his income does not come from the Sultan of Brunei - it's comes from people like you and me.