Most of us have heard the famous saying of Abraham Lincoln that the democracy is ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’,but in many democracies around the world the governments may fulfil the criteria of being ‘of the people’ and ‘by the people’ but they are certainly not ‘for the people’. We notice that in an increasing number of democratic developing countries the elected governments have failed miserably to deliver even the most basic services to their public. Recently a video went viral on the internet in which during the inauguration of a football stadium in Iraqi holy city of Najaf people greeted every politician and bureaucrat who came on the stage with one single chant ‘you are all thieves’. They, later on, confirmed their disillusionment by largely staying at home during elections only about 44 percent of eligible voters voted. Iraq is but only one example. Democracies, both young and mature, which have failed to deliver are scattered all around. In Nigeria, people are not shocked when millions of dollars are seized from former politicians. Public protests against corruption and mismanagement forced Robert Mugabe to leave in Zimbabwe. In India, which is a mature democracy, people constantly struggle to get basic public services. Corruption and financial scandals are everyday news in Latin America, and last but not least, we are well aware of what is going on in Pakistan and how the majority of politicians are accused of plundering the wealth of the nation and syphoning it away from the country, stashing in offshore companies and foreign bank accounts. Research has consistently shown that democracy alone does not have a much positive impact on developmental outcomes in developing countries. A robust accountability system should employ some of the most talented forensic experts, technology geeks, chartered accountants and lawmen while also employing the latest technologies so that no one can escape its watchful eyes and abscond with public money It may be surprising for a layman as to why politicians become corrupt when people trust them with their votes and give them spending authority over nation’s resources but not for scholars of political economy. Politicians act according to the public choice theory which says that people are self-interested and try to maximise personal benefits and act in public interest only when doing so also promotes their personal interest. This is why we witness selective development where politicians engage in politics of personalism and clientelism doing public spending in targeted areas and communities where they have a voting base. Execution of expensive signature projects is also an example. Construction of a big infrastructure project which may be used by only one million people in a day sways public opinion in favour of politicians more than providing clean drinking water to 10 million people who also drink it daily. Politicians do this because winning next election is their primary purpose, not the real development. The lack of credible commitment is also an issue. When politicians know that public does not take their promises credible, they do not act credibly. The opportunity for corruption comes from a combination of excessive government power and lack of accountability. Sir John Dalberg-Acton was absolutely right in saying: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Too much power concentrated in few hands makes them in charge of the sheer amount of resources which they have an incentive to misuse absent any check and balance. In developing countries where elected representatives are given discretionary powers over public spending, corruption flourishes. Politicians give contracts to their cronies in return for kickbacks and their support during elections. Here we are only talking about when politicians directly or indirectly take out money from government coffers for their own benefit. One of the worse consequence of corruption in democracies is that it erodes democracy itself by making public lose trust in leaders and institutions. The most recent example is Iraq where people just did not turn out to vote because of their frustration with those same old faces who have plundered the nation’s oil wealth while sowing religious and ethnic hatred among the general public. Also, there is no wonder why people did not agitate when General Musharraf deposed democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999. One thing that should be especially noted here that corruption is a crime and should be tried in a court of law like other crimes, and not in the court people’s court When masses are struggling with most basic necessities of life, they just want to see some messiah rescuing them regardless of how he came into power. It is only after some time they will learn that this change of guard proved even worse and they will again look for someone else. In most of the countries, government machinery meets its expenses through taxes collected from the public. But when taxpayers know that their tax money is directly or indirectly plundered, they have a less incentive to pay taxes. The dismally low number of taxpayers in Pakistan is not only because people just do not pay taxes, but many of them do not pay tax because they think that their money is not spent for public benefit. This contributes to a vicious cycle in which government loses tax money and forced to cut developmental expenses resulting in further erosion of public trust in their elected representatives. This is not an exhausting list of negative consequences of corruption in democracies many more pages and even entire books can be produced on this single topic. So what can be done to reduce corruption in democracies? Two things we need to keep in mind: first, the scholars of political science have concluded that no perfect democratic system can be created. Every system will have some pros and cons. Second, corruption cannot be eliminated altogether as costs incurred on 100 percent elimination of corruption will far outweigh benefits. So reducing corruption through various checks and balances is the only option. The first thing which comes to our mind to tackle corruption is accountability as Francois de La Rochefoucauld once said: “we should not trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability”. But before accountability, we should focus on the prevention of corruption. Developed countries have made it very hard for politicians and public servants to engage in corruption. Process automation and employing disruptive technologies like block-chain, which records each transaction and cannot be hacked, can play a vital part in this war against corruption. Many countries have enacted term limits for presidents and prime ministers to make them realise that they will be out of power very soon and will be held accountable. But in Pakistan, this term limit was abolished as if there are not enough talented people in the country of 207 million who can take the reign after existing lot of leaders. Accountability, which is sadly missing in most of the developing democracies, is the tool we can count on. A transparent, efficient and independent system of accountability can reduce the corruption to a significant extent. A robust accountability system should employ some of the most talented forensic experts, technology geeks, chartered accountants and lawmen while employing latest technologies in parallel so that no one can escape its watchful eyes and run away with public money. Harsh punishments like those given in developed countries (the most recent example is South Korea where former president Park is behind bars for 25 years on corruption charges) should be waiting for those found guilty. One thing should be especially noted here that corruption is a crime and should be tried in a court of law like other crimes and not in the court of people. An individual doesn’t have an incentive and capacity to get information about a politician’s monetary records and vote him out if he finds him corrupt. Law has to take its course with maximum transparency. Those who are found guilty of plundering public resources should be demonised, stigmatised and made aliens in the society. This is the only way a democratic government can be made a government of the people, by the people and most importantly for the people. The writer has obtained a Masters degree in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University and is currently pursuing PhD at LKY School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Twitter @masoodthinketh Published in Daily Times, May 30th 2018.