I have repented, therefore I seek redemption. One of the subjects of my criticism the last three years had been former Sports Minister, YB Datuk Seri Hajjah Azalina Othman Said, who is presently running the Tourism Ministry.
As a birthday present for the Penggerang Member of Parliament, I would like to extend an olive branch and express my utmost sincerity in asking for her forgiveness.
To illustrate my innermost thoughts, I have taken the liberty to attach herewith an Open Letter to YB Azalina, who celebrates her 45th birthday on Dec 31, 2008.
Dear YB Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said
RE: Happy birthday
I hope this letter reaches you in great health, YB.
On behalf of my family and I, I wish to take this opportunity to wish you a great 45th birthday. We send you many wishes of comfort, peace and happiness on this wonderful celebration day of your life.
May Allah grant you a sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, and a sheltering angel to comfort you and shield you from harm's way.
I realise, YB, that it's time to bury the hatchet, well, if there was any in the first place. After all, YB, you no longer preside over the Sports Ministry, while I have left mainstream journalism.
Therefore it is time for me to stop writing tongue-in-cheek pieces aimed at your esteemed self. I’ve taken enough potshots at you for which I was wrongly perceived as being your "eternal foe".
Although I was accused by your lobbyists of malice aforethought in my writings, I must say my conscience is clear, YB. I'm sure you were aware, YB, that there were several attempts to stop me from writing things which could be detrimental to your stature as a politician and a rising star in UMNO.
You may recall, YB, that when you suspected a number of NSC officials as being the deep throat in the organisation, you sent Khazai Abu Bakar alias Tepak Bersulam and Sajahan Abdul Waheed to spread their investigative tentacles.
Sajahan, I believed, submitted a report to you on his conversation with me at Strudels, Bangsar, in early 2005, shortly after I began to question the wisdom behind NSC's RM500,000 funding on a monthly basis to sports newspaper, Malaysian Today. Sajahan's leading questions were designed to cajole me into revealing who my source was. And he did ask me "what's your agenda, Rizal?"
Praise be to Sajahan for his persistence as he mentioned among others Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad and Ahmad Shapawi Ismail as two of my sources. I remained steadfast and instead continued munching away the sandwich courtesy of Sajahan of course. I gave Sajahan a piece of my mind as I felt there were signs of abuse of power. I did not expect you and your team to be receptive to my honest assessment, though.
True enough, there was a witch hunt in NSC, with Mazlan and Shapawi as the two individuals potrayed as the culprits and a hindrance to "new ideas". Being the loose cannon that I am, I realised what was happening and as a result, sent a number of text messages telling Sajahan that I would not hesitate to speak to the powers-that-be if you continued to abuse your position.
Shortly after word got out that I was "out of order" in the manner I posed questions to you when you visited the National Sports Institute, the then Malay Mail editor Ahirudin Attan or better known as Rocky decided to pull me out of the beat. Ghaz Ramli, a greenhorn by any reckoning, was given the beat.
Fast forward to the final day of 2008, YB, and I'm pleased that Sajahan is doing well in his second stint at the New Straits Times. We are even friends on Facebook. Upon leaving your office sometime this year, he sent me a flurry of text messages apologising profusely to me that he was merely doing his job.
When I decided to come up with this blog, I did not do it out of spite. My intention was to share my thoughts in cyberworld. But I had expected your cybertroopers to launch a counter-attack and sure enough Khazai or Tepak Bersulam did. He accused me of having been flown overseas to play golf and that I was a mercenary, prostituting my writing skills to the highest bidder. And he did it in poorly written Bahasa riddled with literals, grammatical mistakes and above all factual errors.
But that's all in the past, YB. Let bygones be bygones. I know you are seeking ways to boost your image and promote tourism through Zoom Malaysia.
Although there are rumours saying certain sections of your advisers are charlatans who, contrary to the PR hype and spin, put profits and personal gain before principles, I don't think it is true. I've also heard astonishing tales of deceit, deception, corruption and above all, breathtaking hypocrisy but I guess they are all hearsay.
As we usher in 2009, YB, allow me to wish you a Happy New Year. May the year 2009 turn out to be a highly successful year for you personally, YB.
Again, please accept my humble apologies. The loose cannon is now aimed at others, including your successor.
p/s Anyway just to refresh your memory, YB, the following Open Letter to you appeared in the Malay Mail on Dec 31, 2007.
Dear YB Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said,
RE: Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns
I hope this card reaches YB in fine health. I, on behalf of The Malay Mail sports desk, would like to take this opportunity to wish YB a grand 44th birthday and a Happy New Year.
May the year 2008 turn out to be a highly satisfying year for you personally, YB. After all it is shaping up to be a critical year, with elections looming on the horizon, while the Beijing Olympics is a mere eight months away.
YB may not know this but you are in exalted company, YB, as you share the same birthday as the likes of Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, French painter Henri Matisse, American military leader George C. Marshall, Simon Wiesenthal, the controversial Nazi hunter and Manchester United supremo Sir Alex Ferguson.
I must admit, YB, that I've questioned some of the decisions made in your capacity as the chairman of the National Sports Council Board.
The list is too long to mention but among the issues are the hiring of foreign managers to accomplish tasks which were once performed within our walls, your constant criticisms towards high-achievers such as Nicol David, Wong Mew Choo and Noraseela Mohd Khalid as if they were machines that are expected to perform week in, week out, the Hertfordshire project which was pursued against the public's wishes and the de-registering of the Malaysian Taekwondo Association.
I don't intend to dwell on them. Instead, I wish to share the enthusiasm showed by some of your advisers and business associates who have been trying hard to convince me expensive programmes such as Rakan Muda Jiran Muda Sports Community League and the Tunas Gemilang Talent Identification will bear fruit in the long run.
This card is therefore a gentle reminder for YB to continue the good work. Personally, I was a big fan of yours, having grown to admire you since you projected yourself as an articulate, bold and straight to the point host while anchoring ntv7's Dateline in 1998.
It was such a refreshing sight to see YB as well as Khairy Jamaluddin, who is now a deputy president of the FA of Malaysia, anchoring the show and holding discourses on governance issues affecting the country. At some point I might have doubts about your leadership style but I hope politics has not changed the way you work, YB.
Well, I don't intend to be long-winded, as one of my old bosses always said: "Keep it short." I've prepared a long list of unsolicited advice for YB to peruse but, I had a change of heart, considering you, YB, surround yourself with some of the so-called best brains in the industry, even if they have little track record to impress me.
Truman, YB, once said: "If you can't convince them, confuse them."
My wish for the new year is for YB to keep an eye on individuals who have the tendency to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain.
On the issue of Tan Sri Elyas Omar's successor as the Sports Commissioner, perhaps YB can consider appointing the Italian-speaking secretary-general of the Sports Ministry, Datuk Yasin Salleh, as a stop-gap measure before you find the right candidate.
Or extend Elyas' tenure as the Sports Commissioner until he settles all the outstanding issues. Although I'm convinced Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad is the right man for the job, considering his wealth of knowledge and experience in steering the NSC, I don't think YB share my sentiments.
After all, my opinion is something that is true for me personally, my conviction, on the other hand, is something that is true for everybody, in my humble opinion. I salute you, YB, for having tolerated criticisms from various quarters, some of them valid, in making all your programmes a resounding success since you were appointed to replace Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in early 2004. I hope YB continue to exercise a high degree of tolerance.
To borrow a famous quote from Abraham Lincoln: "Nearly all men (women in YB's case) can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power!"
Till then, YB. Many happy returns, again!
From your fellow Johorean,