Uzbekistan’s legislation and Criminal Code both prohibit corruption. President Mirziyoyev has declared combatting widespread corruption one of his top priorities. On January 3, 2017, he approved the Law on Combating Corruption. The law is intended to raise the efficiency of anti-corruption measures through the consolidation of efforts of government bodies and civil society in preventing and combating cases of corruption, attempted corruption, and conflict of interest, ensuring punishment for such crimes. On June 29, 2020, Presidential Decree UP-4761 created an Anti-Corruption Agency. Subordinate to the president and reporting to Parliament, the agency is responsible for developing and implementing state policy to prevent and combat corruption. On July 6, 2021, Presidential Decree UP-6257 approved 2021-2022 State Anti-Corruption program, which includes a range of measures to ensure the transparency of the government and tighten criminal liability for violators. This program complements the strategy adopted in 2019. Its goals are to strengthen the independence of the judiciary system, develop a fair and transparent public service system requiring civil servants to declare their incomes, establish mechanisms to prevent conflicts of interest, and facilitate civil society and media participation in combating corruption.
Along with the Anti-Corruption Committee, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan (PGO) is the government arm tasked with fighting corruption. Since Mirziyoyev took office in September 2016, the number of officials prosecuted under anti-corruption laws has increased. According to official statistics, over 9,000 corruption-related crimes were registered in 2017-2020. In 2021, Uzbekistani law enforcement agencies initiated 2,345 corruption related criminal cases and prosecuted 2,804 government officials, including 16 central, 241 regional and 2,547 local government officials. By preliminary assessments, the damage caused by budget embezzlement and corruption crimes in 2021 exceeded $90 million. Punishment has varied from fines to imprisonment with confiscation of property. Despite more active criminal prosecution of corrupt officials, however, fundamental reforms to eliminate the prerequisites for such offenses again showed no progress – the adoption of the Law on State Civil Service, which was first drafted 25 years ago, is still on hold.
Formally, the anti-corruption legislation extends to all government officials, their family members, and members of all political parties of the country. From January 1, 2022, Uzbekistan introduces a system of mandatory declaration of income and property for all civil servants, heads and deputies of state-owned enterprises and institutions (entities with state ownership share over 50%), as well as for their spouses and minor children.
In recent years, the GOU has demonstrated efforts to improve the legal framework of awarding contracts and procedures for public procurement. To reduce corruption, the new legal framework provides for the introduction of more transparent electronic bidding systems. The new Law on Natural Resources (ZRU-403 of June 23, 2020), in combination with the Law on Production Sharing Agreements, the Law on Concessions, and various Government Resolutions specify procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and licenses. The most recent Public Procurement Law (ZRU-684, adopted April 22, 2021, effective January 1, 2022) streamlines relevant procedures and requirements. According to the legislation, public procurement or a natural resource extraction contract/license can be awarded through an open auction through E-IJRO AUKSION electronic auction platform, or by decision of the government. In the latter case, the legislation lacks details on actual application procedures and the government’s decision-making process. While enforcement of the new legislation is still at early stage, the process of awarding GOU contracts continues to lack transparency.
The Law on Combating Corruption (ZRU-419, adopted January 3, 2017, last updated November 19, 2021) prescribes a range of measures for preventing corruption, including raising public awareness and introducing transparent rules for public-private interactions. According to the law, all public officials are obliged to notify their supervisors or law enforcement agencies of all cases of proposed corruption from businesses or individuals, as well as any similar offenses committed by other public service employees. The law, however, does not specifically encourage companies to establish relevant internal codes of conduct.
Currently only a few local companies created by or with foreign investors have effective internal ethics programs.
Uzbekistan is a member of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network (ACN) for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. One of the latest OECD reports on anti-corruption reforms in Uzbekistan (March 21, 2019) says that, although Uzbekistan has already undertaken a number of key anti-corruption reforms, the GOU now needs to systematize its anti-corruption policy by making it strategic in nature.
The Law on Combating Corruption encourages more active involvement of NGOs and civil society in investigation and prevention of crimes related with corruption. However, there are still very few officially registered local anti-corruption NGOs. One of them – Transparency Uzbekistan – was registered in September 2021. Embassy Tashkent is not aware of any active corruption investigations conducted by local NGOs. There is evidence of unjust persecution of local civil society activists who are fighting corruption.
Corruption is still a notable factor in the economy and social sphere of Uzbekistan due to the insufficiency of law enforcement practices and relatively low wages in the public sector. Recognizing the issue, the country’s leadership has initiated legislative and institutional reforms, which has already raised Uzbekistan’s rating in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index from 157 (out of 180 rated countries) in 2017 to 140 in 2021. U.S. businesses have cited corruption and lack of transparency in bureaucratic processes, including public procurements and licensing, as among the main obstacles to foreign direct investment in Uzbekistan.