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MY PHNOM PENH: Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International

Preap Kol spends his weekdays, and sometimes his weekends, spearheading the country’s drive towards accountability and transparency. This week he spoke to Harriet Fitch Little about how he allocates his precious downtime.


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We have a team at work called Transparency United and we play against teams from other institutes in Phnom Penh. We want to be one of the strongest teams, so we have volunteer contracts for our players and train once a week for two hours. In the past two weeks we’ve had four victories. Now we’re dreaming of creating a cup called the Transparency Cup to promote transparency and accountability using sport. We’ll open registration for all institutions but also have our own team playing. When you’re not very good at football, you don’t have many options for where to play. I started as a goalkeeper, but it was too much pressure, so I asked my team to help me identify what other role I could play. They said: “You’re not very good, so if you play as a defender you cannot protect us from other strikers; if you play midfield you are not so good at passing the ball – so the only option is for you to be a striker.” I thought: “OK, not bad.” I once scored eight goals in a match.

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Days on the farm
I’ve managed to get a small plot of land in Kandal province which I’m developing by growing trees and vegetables. I’m building a small bungalow there and it will become my retirement village – I’m getting older, so I have to think about that. I spend most of my weekends there already. On weekdays, you’re busy working and typing in front of a screen, so to go there and have the wind blowing from all directions while you sit and eat lunch under a tree is amazing. And it costs much less than if you go to a restaurant or a picnic place that belongs to a business. I grew up in the countryside and did a lot of farming – all the heavy stuff. Now I still have the passion and skills, it’s just that my energy isn’t the same as when I was a teenager.

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Preap Sovath
Preap Sovath used to be, or still is, one of the top singers in Cambodia. I’ve liked his songs since he started being famous, and he’s 40 now, I guess – perhaps a bit older. He’s a pop singer but he has a very unique voice, and a unique style of performing on stage with a team around him which is more advanced than other singers. We have the same family name, so we would sometimes joke that we are brothers. But I am getting a bit disappointed in him because like all the singers here he engages with promoting alcohol too much. Celebrities now openly promote alcohol at every event they have in the city. Based on studies we did with Transparency International, 70 per cent of young people are influenced by celebrities, so what these people do will unknowingly effect young people.

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Koh Dach
I grew up in the countryside, so even though I’ve been in Phnom Penh over 10 years, I still like getting out – in particular, over the other side of the river via the Japanese bridge. I cross over to Koh Dach [Silk Island] where you can see the silk products being produced by hand and you can watch the transformation of the worms into butterflies. I’ve bought silk there before as a souvenir, but I also like going to the island just to just watch the farming. I get so angry when people cut trees down – and I worry, because I don’t think Silk Island is protected from development. If there was a bridge with a road going there, I’m sure it would quickly change because it’s not that far from Phnom Penh. It would only take 10 or 15 minutes from town, so who knows what would happen.

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Street 178 art shops
I go to art galleries, but to be honest I mainly end up just looking at the pictures of nature. There’s a street near the National Museum – Street 178 – where there are lots of shops selling good paintings. I don’t look for the name of a specific painter, I look for the product – countryside views, sunsets, sunrises, rivers and green areas. Like most things in Cambodia, you have to bargain for them, but I’m probably among the worst at bargaining because I can see how much labour has gone in to the paintings. I don’t know why I love these kinds of pictures so much but I do. I’ve got a couple in my office and a few in my bedroom, but my house is small so I don’t have much space to hang them.



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