In another initiative to pacify its population, the tiny state comes up with a system which rewards people for meeting certain benchmarks.
Flush with oil wealth, a contented expat community which is happy to spend a lot of its time in shopping malls and with little to worry about political dissent - of which there is next to none - the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should have been at ease.
Even more so because it is among a handful of countries that have been able to vaccinate a large portion of their populations as the pandemic ravages health infrastructure elsewhere.
But Abu Dhabi still feels that its Emirati citizens and the expat residents, who make up the majority of the population, should be given a little bit more to keep them happy.
The government has formally launched its National Programme for Behavioural Rewards, which incentivises good behaviour in hopes that it will help meet official policy goals like reduced carbon emissions.
The programme is part of the Ministry of Possibilities, which was created in 2019 to improve coordination between various government departments - something that can help better public service delivery and groom young Emiratis.
The behavioural reward programme basically helps UAE residents earn certain points, which they use to pay for government services.
Points have to be earned by meeting certain benchmarks such as adopting a healthy lifestyle, which involves regular physical exercise, or changing eating habits. Officials can keep track of their progress via an app.
More than 70 reward categories have been set but the information hasn’t been shared publicly as yet.
In recent years, the UAE government has increasingly relied on behavioural economics, surveys and scientific tools to improve the way in which various government agencies interact with citizens.
With people getting used to a comfortable and stable lifestyle, the UAE is facing high rates of obesity especially as a hot climate discourages people to take on more outdoor activities.
The strategy also aims to encourage savings as the UAE’s economy feels the stress of the pandemic, which has shut businesses and hit tourism.
For instance, UAE has one of the highest water consumption on a per capita basis despite facing severe shortages and having to rely on desalination plants.
“Bathrooms are the number one source of water consumption in households due to wasteful behaviors like taking long showers, leaving the water on when brushing one’s teeth, or using high-capacity toilet bowls and flushing repeatedly,” says a report by Strategy &, a consultancy.
The drive to trigger behavioural changes with rewards comes at a time when Abu Dhabi is facing multiple challenges - both internal and external.
The tiny conglomeration of small states tried to exert its influence in the region by taking part in the bloody and expensive Yemen conflict. But UAE had to retreat last year as the war with Iran-backed Houthis dragged on for years.
It’s economy wasn’t doing well even before the pandemic as real estate prices slumped and countries in the region began offering incentives to attract businesses away from UAE’s commercial hub - Dubai.
The oil boom, which transformed the desert into an oasis of glitzy skyscrapers, luxury hotels and a police that patrols the streets in Lamborghinis, is fading. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia is already exploring other ways to supplement its income.
More than 85 percent of UAE’s 9.7 million population is made up of expatriates who have brought valuable knowledge and expertise.
Dubai remains the most favoured city in the Middle East among corporate bosses as around 47 top Fortune 200 companies have regional offices there.
But Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy, is seeking to diversify its economy away from oil and wants to challenge Dubai’s status as a home for blue chip firms.
In February, Riyadh issued an ultimatum to foreign firms, saying that if they want lucrative government contracts then they better relocate regional offices to the kingdom by the beginning of 2024.