Since his arrival in Phnom Penh, UK Ambassador Mark Gooding has been among the most active diplomats in the capital, detonating landmines, racing around in tuk-tuks, and – if rumours can believed – behaving like a gentleman. He spoke to 7Days about his event-heavy schedule.
The British entry in Cambodia’s first Amazing tuk-tuk race during last month’s Pride festival came in last. Were you personally disappointed, and does this possibly signal a poor performance for British athletes at the London Olympics?
We were delighted to take part in the Cambodia Pride’s tuk tuk race to help raise awareness of the issues facing the LGBT community, and support the organizations working to address these issues.
The UK strongly supports efforts to promote diversity and combat discrimination, both in the UK and overseas. That’s why we regularly participate in events devoted to these objectives, such as in the fields of women’s rights, rights of the disabled, LGBT rights and many others.
You’re right that despite our valiant efforts in torrential rain, we didn’t win the Pride tuk tuk race, but we were still very happy to take part. I am confident that the British Olympics and Paralympics teams will do better in London 2012!
You have a high public profile as Ambassador due to the Diamond Jubilee this year and the London Games. Are you looking forward to a vacation or do you find the events invigorating?
I have greatly enjoyed the activities we have organized to celebrate London 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee. This is an exciting year for the UK.
London is the first city ever to host the Olympic Games three times, and we are looking forward to welcoming millions of visitors to see the energy and dynamism of modern Britain. And Queen Elizabeth is only the second British monarch ever to celebrate 60 years on the throne.
In Cambodia, we have celebrated these events energetically and creatively. For example, two weeks ago I participated in a Diamond Jubilee detonation of 60kg of mines and unexploded ordinance found in our de-mining program, 1kg for each year of The Queen’s reign.
And we have been working closely with the NOCC to count down to the Olympics. For example, we arranged a 100m race with the Cambodian Olympic team in front of the Royal Palace to mark 100 days to go before London 2012, and just last week, a British Embassy team of 16 participated in the Phnom Penh Olympic Day half marathon.
Our legs are recovering well.
The UK has been a major supporter of de-mining in Cambodia, but this issue seems to have slipped of the agenda in the media. Why does de-mining remain a priority for the UK?
Cambodia is the number one recipient of de-mining funding from the UK.
We prioritise our mine action programme work in places where it will have the greatest positive impact on communities’ livelihoods and where it complements other development program.
The UK is supporting mine action in Cambodia with £3.5 million over three years. This reflects the concern the UK has for the heavy burden of contamination in Cambodia as well as the high level of cooperation and leadership demonstrated by the Cambodian authorities and the expected impact clearance can have on improving the welfare and livelihoods of the population
The embassy also helps support a wide range of community-based organisations with grants. What are your priority areas for funding and where do you see the most success?
The British government provides a wide range of funding in Cambodia in many different fields in line with the National Strategic Development Plan.
Our major programs operate in the fields of de-mining, health, poverty monitoring and HIV prevention. We are also a major contributor to the ECCC, and have recently announced new funding of half a million dollars to support the creation of Cambodia’s first Marine Protected Area off Sihanoukville.
With regard to community-based organisations, we support activities in the areas of community building, civic participation, climate change, human rights and democracy (e.g. election monitoring, voter registration).
We also have very successful co-operation with civil society, the police and the Ministry of the Interior in helping boost child protection and tackling child exploitation.
Trade between Cambodia and the UK has quadrupled over the past five years and the UK recently re-opened its trade and investment office here. How much interest are you seeing from British firms and what sectors are they looking into?
We are pleased to see a growing number of British companies investing and doing business in Cambodia.
We already have a number of British garments manufacturers operating successfully here, and are seeing a range of other sectors entering the market, including in services, architecture and design, and education.
For example, the landmark Vattanac Capital development in Phnom Penh was designed by British architects, overseen by British engineers, and will be managed by British companies.
This will deliver world class UK building sustainability and functionality to building development in Cambodia. Another good example of the UK’s visible commercial presence in Cambodia is the number of Land Rovers and Range Rovers you see on the roads.
Underlying the Olympics is a message of peace, called the Olympic Truce, which in ancient Greece allowed athletes, artists and their families safe passage to Olympia. How is the UK promoting this message this year, and how important do you regard it?
Last year, the UN General Assembly agreed the Olympics Truce. For the first time, this was agreed by unanimity.
This is important as it reinforces the ethos of the Olympics and the Paralympics bringing people together from all over the world to enjoy and participate in sport, as well as the importance of promoting peace and conflict resolution.
Ambassadors are not allowed to be naughty. Does this get to you sometimes? Do you sometimes wish you could be a little less diplomatic?
Most of the time, no, although I sometimes have undiplomatic thoughts in Phnom Penh traffic.