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Corruption is a low risk for companies operating in Uruguay, which is considered the least corrupt country in Latin America. Uruguay has a strong rule of law and transparent institutions, and it actively prosecutes corruption offenses. Corruption-related obstacles are most likely to occur when operating in the public procurement sector. The Anti-Bribery Law (in Spanish) prohibits public officials from accepting bribes or facilitation payments, while individuals who offer or pay the bribe or facilitation payment will be held criminally liable. The maximum punishments are fines or jail of up to six years, but companies cannot be held liable. Facilitation payments and gifts are rare in practice.
Last updated: May 2016
Uruguay’s judiciary is a low-risk sector. Exchanges of irregular payments or bribes to obtain favorable judicial decisions are uncommon (GCR 2015-2016). Judicial independence is guaranteed by the constitution and respected in practice (HRR 2014). Nevertheless, the judiciary operates slowly, and companies state that it lacks some efficiency in terms of settling disputes and challenging regulations (ICS 2015; GCR 2015-2016). Enforcing a contract takes on average 725 days and is less costly than Latin American averages (DB 2016). The slow pace of the court system has led to a backlog in cases (FitW 2015).
Uruguay has accessed the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and is a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Corruption is a low risk when dealing with Uruguay’s police. Impunity is not an issue as allegations of corruption in the police are commonly addressed in the courts (HRR 2014). Uruguay is a safer place to conduct business than other regional countries, which suffer from high crime rates (FitW 2015). Nonetheless, the police cannot be consistently relied upon to enforce law and order, and crime and violence impose costs on businesses (GCR 2015-2016).
In 2015, following a three-year-long investigation, nine police officers were prosecuted for corruption, abuse of office and fraud, as they bartered vouchers intended for patrol and products for money (República, July 2015).
There is a low risk of corruption when accessing public services and acquiring licenses. Undocumented payments are rare when obtaining utilities (GCR 2015-2016). In late-2014, around 7 percent of citizens reported having paid a bribe for public services in the past 12 months (Vanderbilt University, Dec. 2014). Starting a business takes on average 6.5 days, while getting electricity takes less time than elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribean and is significantly less costly (DB 2016).
Corruption is a low risk in Uruguay’s land administration. Rules and regulations on the acquisition, benefit, use and sale of property are well-defined and enforced and can only be limited for reasons of public interest (BTI 2016). Registering property takes on average 66 days, while dealing with construction permits is more cumbersome and takes businesses 251 days on average (DB 2016).
Corruption in the tax sector is a low risk. Irregular payments or bribes in connection with annual tax payments are uncommon (GCR 2015-2016). Uruguay implemented an online filing and payment system, which it continuously upgrades and improves for filing and paying taxes (DB 2016). A business executive spends on average 277 hours per year preparing and paying taxes (DB 2016).
The customs sector carries a low corruption risk. Businesses report very rare irregular payments and bribes when importing and exporting goods; corruption is not a significant obstacle when importing or exporting goods (GETR 2014). Import procedures and tariffs can be burdensome (GETR 2014). In the most recent citizen survey on corruption in Uruguay, around half of respondents identified the customs administration as corrupt (Miller Chevalier, Jun. 2012).
There is a moderate risk of corruption in Uruguay’s public procurement sector. Irregular payments and bribes are at times exchanged in connection with the awarding of public contracts (GCR 2015-2016). The diversion of public funds is rare, but companies at times experience favoritism to well-connected firms and individuals in the government when awarding public contracts (GCR 2015-2016). Overall, there are clear laws on regulation on the procurement process, which require fair and open competition (ICS 2015).
Uruguay has a well-developed anti-corruption framework, and these laws are enforced in practice (BTI 2016). The Anti-Bribery Law (in Spanish) prohibits public officials from accepting bribes or facilitation payments. It does not directly address supply-side corruption, but an individual offering or paying the bribe or facilitation payment will be held criminally liable for their part in the crime (Legalink, 2013). The maximum punishment for corruption-related offenses is fines or imprisonment for up to six years (Legalink, 2013). Criminal liability is limited to persons, meaning companies cannot be held responsible for criminal conduct (Legalink, 2013).
The law for the control and prevention of money laundering and terrorism finance (in Spanish) establishes a framework against money laundering and terrorism financing and includes some forms of corruption (ICS 2015). Money laundering is penalized with prison sentences of up to ten years, and prosecutions have been gradually increasing since 2005 (ICS 2015). The Transparency and Public Ethics Committee is the government body with the mandate to curb public sector corruption.
Uruguay has ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC) and accessed the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). It is not a member of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Uruguay’s media is one of the freest in Latin America (FotP 2015). Its numerous media outlets are mostly privately owned and are free from external pressures (FotP 2015). The public is granted access to government information by law; accordingly, administrative procedures in government agencies are transparent (HRR 2014).
Freedoms of assembly and association are provided by law and are respected in practice (FitW 2015). Many civil society organizations are active in Uruguay, some of which deal with anti-corruption (BTI 2016).
- World Bank & IFC: Doing Business 2016.
- Bertelsmann Foundation: Transformation Index – Uruguay 2016.
- World Economic Forum: Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016.
- US Department of State: Investment Climate Statement 2015 – Uruguay.
- Freedom House: Freedom of the Press 2015 – Uruguay.
- Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2015 – Uruguay.
- Baker & McKenzie: Global Overview of Anti-Bribery Laws 2015.
- República: “Nueve policías procesados por corrupción en Cayma,” 17 July 2015.
- World Economic Forum: Global Enabling Trade Report 2014.
- US Department of State: Human Rights Practices Report 2014 – Uruguay.
- Vanderbilt University: The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2014, December 2014.
- Legalink: Uruguay, 2013.
- Miller Chevalier: Latin America Corruption Survey, June 2012.