For the better part of this term the Supreme Court has hounded a reluctant government to do its constitutional duty and hold Local Government elections. When the provinces finally buckled under the pressure and held the polls, they were heralded as a victory for accountability and democracy – especially by the provincial governments in eloquent quotable terms. LYet, a few months down the line the government appears to be just as centralised as before, and the clamour over the LG polls, wasted.

On Saturday elected councilors unanimously demanded the federal government and provinces accept local governments as third tier of government and ensure genuine and substantive devolution of financial and administrative powers to them. The union councils have been elected, but have been given no funds, no office space and no authority to work with. This is not a one-off case, or a problem in a specific province; councilors from all provinces were present in the capital to voice their demands. This means everyone, from the ‘resurgent’ PML-N, the common man’s PPP, the righteous PTI to the pious JUI-F, all have withheld funds from the local councilors so that individual MPAs control all the spending. The issue is not limited to parliamentarian greed, according to the councilors the legislation which created the third tier are replete with authoritarian laws. Even after “devolving” power to the local bodies, the power still ultimately rests in the hands of the political elite.

In the face of this development, how can the LG polls are characterised; a mass deception, a breach of the public’s trust or political embezzlement carried out in consensus? This fact has been evident before. Lawmakers who are usually absent from the parliament, and parties who are usually at each other’s throats always find time to attend National Assembly sessions to bass bills that increase their salaries and remunerations quite amicably. Once again these paragons of justice are united in depriving the union council members – the true representatives of the people – from the means to do their jobs, lest the parliamentarians lose their power.

This shameful co-option of the LG system must stop. If the Supreme Court took up the LG cause once it can do so again. Not letting the third tier of democracy function is a contravention of the constitution, and even illegal based on the legislation that created the LG bodies. It is a shame that the apex court will once again have to reconstitute funds from the pockets of greedy politicians.