Can e-toll gantries reduce corruption and dishonesty?

Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Uncategorized | 0 comments


The impending doom to befall motorists in the form of the Gauteng e-toll system has been receiving a lot of press recently. One of the system’s key failures from a behavioural economics point of view is the fact that the rather large number of gantries stretched across the road serve as frequent reminders to motorists that they are paying to use the road. The recent history and hype around it, actually turns this reminder into an even greater feeling of being ripped off. But can we take a positive from this?

During a business trip (my first) to Iran, I was astounded by the fact that every conference I spoke at opened with a video clip. A video of prayer and nation-building showing the power of Allah, but also Iran’s military power and of course several images of its leadership. It reminded both of the American Pledge of Allegience that used to open every school day, and the way young South Africans were indoctrinated in primary school during the apartheid years of the 1970s and 1980s. It turns out that these rituals, or constant reminders, are not in vain.

In research conducted at MIT, students were asked to perform a matrix maths test, for financial reward. The first group (the control) took the test, self-scored it and handed into the examiner. They averaged 3 correct answers out of 20 in an environment where being dishonest – cheating – was not possible.

The second group of students who wrote the test were given the opportunity to cheat. They were not required to physically hand their tests to the examiner, but merely told the examiner what their score was in order to claim their cash reward. The reward was only 10 cents per correct answer by the way. Not a significant amount of money.

The most remarkable results came from a third group of students though who took the test. Again the participants could hide their real results because they were not required to hand in their test papers. However, prior to taking the test, they were asked to read The 10 Commandments, and they were reminded of the fact that since this is a test at MIT, they were subject to the MIT Honour Code. What happened next was somewhat perplexing. Even though the students did not hand in their answer papers, as with scenario 2 above, they did not cheat on their monetary claims. The students in the 3rd group claimed on average to have 3 answers correct. So even though there was no control in place students were more honest when they were reminded of morality and of an ethics code.

If e-toll gantries cause a constant and repetitive reminder of loss thereby heightening our emotions attached to being tolled on freeways despite the road delivering on their promise of faster and more efficient commuting, and the repetition of messages of national pride foster stronger bonds with your country, can frequent reminders of morality and ethics not change the way politicians – and business leaders – think about corruption? How can we create these constant reminders?

If you think of professional professions – doctors and lawyers for example – they are required to take an oath of sorts when being admitted as qualified physicians or when being admitted to the Bar. But does this mean that we trust doctors and lawyers? Possibly they’re not reminded of that oath or commitment frequently enough, but certainly professionalism is always equated to a specific set of values and behaviours.

We need to find the e-toll gantry equivalent to remind politicians that they have been elected by the people to serve the people and not themselves. That there rests with them an immense amount of trust and faith. And that by accepting their nominations and elected positions they will act in the best interests of the community. And they need to be reminded not of the consequences of failing us, but rather of the success we can achieve as a nation when we are honest and honourable.

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