Fairness is a factor in regulatory compliance

Difficulties in regulatory compliance

Some regulations are notoriously difficult to ensure compliance with. Take speed limits for example. Few people will, when confronted with an empty or almost empty road, stick to the speed limits as indicated and “enforced”. Unless you are unlucky or not aware of where fixed and mobile camera’s may be positioned, the likelihood of getting caught is very small. However, in doing so, you are breaking the law. You are no longer compliant with the regulations as they apply to you as a road user.

Compliance versus fairness and relevance

Why do people speed when given the chance under the right conditions? Because they believe it to be fair to do so in case the opportunity presents itself and the risk is limited, and mainly a risk to themselves. Their concept of fairness and relevance is taken into account when the take the decision not to obey the rules. If 90 miles per hour is not relevant under specific conditions, the propensity to comply will reduce.
What about taxes? The situation is comparable. As long as we pay an amount equal to or, depending on the variables, in line with our neighbors, we will pay what we are required to. This accounts for a higher degree of perceived compliance issues in certain geographical locations, especially in those with a consistent demographic character.

The challenge to government

Thus, the challenge to government: if people are willing to comply with regulation of they perceive this regulation as fair, how can government increase this perception of fairness?

I would like to propose three elements, which I believe to be a necessary part of the solution:

  • The regulation should be easy to understand, not only in terms of the content itself, but also in terms of the concrete consequences of the regulation for the citizens and organizations subjected to it. Governelnt needs to tell us what will be the very specific consequences of compliance to us;
  • The regulation should be communicated on, in an understandable language with very concrete examples. Government needs to tell me what this is all about, why I should do this and who else is subjected to the same regulation. The regulation should be put in a wider context … Government should not treat us as children, but needs to explain why it is doing what it is doing;
  • Without ignoring the need for continuity in regulation, I believe regulation needs to be bound in time. A sunset clause with a required consultation and sign-off by implicated parties prior to renewal of a regulation, where the implicated parties can make suggestions on improving the efficiency of a law, should be considered.

This way we may have a shot at increasing compliance without significantly increasing the monitoring and follow-up costs, as target groups are informed on impact and wider context and are able to provide their feedback during a regulatory renewal process.