Balikpapan. East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak has continued to back the construction of a controversial new mall in the provincial capital that has drawn opposition from environmentalists and urban planners.
“Local officials and community leaders have all come up to me and asked for the project to be speeded up,” he said on Sunday. “This is what the people themselves want.”
He stressed that the six-story mall and the adjoining 21-floor hotel and apartment tower, to be called the Balikpapan City Center, would go ahead as planned, but he called on the developers and investors to closely monitor the mall’s impact on the environment and traffic in the area.
“According to a presidential instruction, all projects for which the groundbreaking has already been done must continue,” Awang said.
“That’s because this project is for the benefit of the people and will create jobs for thousands of people in Balikpapan and surrounding areas. Nevertheless, careful monitoring is needed.”
The governor played down claims by critics that the construction of the Rp 1 trillion ($106 million) mall would cause irreversible environmental damage, increase the potential for flooding in the already deluge-prone area and disrupt traffic.
“There’s no way I would support any development program that wasn’t aboveboard,” he said. “We should all support this project to turn Balikpapan into a city with world-class facilities. If the governor and the mayor have agreed to it, then why start squabbling?”
Environmentalists have long said the city should not have granted the building permit for the mall and instead have allowed the space, formerly occupied by an Islamic center, to be returned to its original state as a water catchment area.
Awang previously gave an ultimatum to critics of the project.
“If there are still people opposed to it, they should just move from Balikpapan,” he said earlier this month.
“This mall is for the good of the people. On matters of development, there should be no hesitation.”