3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The national government manages all regulatory processes. Information about regulations is often scattered among various ministry and agency websites and is sometimes only available through direct communication with officials. It is advisable for U.S. investors to consult with local attorneys or advisors to assist with locating comprehensive regulatory information.
On the 2020 Global Innovations Index, the Dominican Republic’s overall rank was 90 out of 131 nations analyzed. In sub-sections of the report, the Dominican Republic ranks 101 out of 131 for regulatory environment and 78 out of 131 for regulatory quality. In the same year, the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report ranked the Dominican Republic 133 out of 190 economies with respect to enforcing contracts, 124 out of 190 for resolving insolvency, and 74 out of 190 regarding registering property.
The World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance report states that Dominican ministries and regulatory agencies do not publish lists of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals intended for adoption within a specific timeframe. Law No. 200-04 requires regulatory agencies to give notice of proposed regulations in public consultations and mandates publication of the full text of draft regulations on a unified website: https://saip.gob.do/ . Foreign investors, however, note that these requirements are not always met in practice and many businesses point out that the scope of the website content is not always adequate for investors or interested parties as not all relevant Dominican agencies provide content, and those that do often do not keep the content up to date. U.S. businesses also reported years’ long delays in the enactment of regulations supporting new legislation, even when the common legal waiting period is six months.
The process of public consultation is not uniform across government. Some ministries and regulatory agencies solicit comments on proposed legislation from the public; however, public outreach is generally limited and depends on the responsible ministry or agency. For example, businesses report that some ministries upload proposed regulations to their websites or post them in national newspapers, while others may form working groups with key public and private sector stakeholders participating in the drafting of proposed regulations. Often the criteria used by the government to select participants in these informal exchanges are unclear, which at a minimum creates the appearance of favoritism and that undue influence is being offered to a handpicked (and often politically-connected) group of firms and investors. Public comments received by the government are generally not publicly accessible. Some ministries and agencies prepare consolidated reports on the results of a consultation for direct distribution to interested stakeholders. Ministries and agencies do not conduct impact assessments of regulations or ex post reviews. Affected parties cannot request reconsideration or appeal of adopted regulations.
The Dominican Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPARD) is the country’s legally recognized professional accounting organization and has authority to establish accounting standards in accordance with Law No. 479-08, which also declares that (as amended by Law No. 311-14) financial statements should be prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards nationally and internationally. The ICPARD and the country’s Securities Superintendency require the use of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and IFRS for small and medium-sized entities (SMEs).
By law, the Office of Public Credit publishes on its website a quarterly report on the status of the non-financial public sector debt, which includes a wide array of information and statistics on public borrowing ( www.creditopublico.gov.do/publicaciones/informes_trimestrales.htm ).
In addition to the public debt addressed by the Office of Public Credit, the Central Bank maintains on its balance sheet nearly $10 billion in “quasi-fiscal” debt. When consolidated with central government debt, the debt-to-GDP ratio is over 60 percent, and the debt service ratio is over 30 percent.
International Regulatory Considerations
As of the end of 2020, the Dominican Republic was involved in 17 dispute settlement cases with the WTO: one as complainant, seven as respondent, and nine as a third party. In recent years, the Dominican Republic has frequently changed technical requirements (e.g., for steel rebar imports and sanitary registrations, among others) and has failed to provide proper notification under the WTO TBT agreement and CAFTA-DR.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The judicial branch is an independent branch of the Dominican government. According to Article 69 of the Constitution, all persons, including foreigners, have the right to appear in court. The basic concepts of the Dominican legal system and the forms of legal reasoning derive from French law. The five basic French Codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commerce, Penal, and Criminal Procedure) were translated into Spanish and passed as legislation in 1884. Some of these codes have since been amended and parts have been replaced, including the total derogation of the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2002. Subsequent Dominican laws are not of French origin.
In year 2020, the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report gave the Dominican Republic a score of 6.5 out of 18 in the quality of its judicial processes. In the 2020 Global Innovations Index, the Dominican Republic ranked 86 out of 131 countries for rule of law.
There is a Commercial Code and a wide variety of laws governing business formation and activity. The main laws governing commercial disputes are the Commercial Code; Law No. 479-08, the Commercial Societies Law; Law No. 3-02, concerning Business Registration; Commercial Arbitration Law No. 489-08; Law No. 141-15 concerning Restructuring and Liquidation of Business Entities; and Law No. 126-02, concerning e-Commerce and Digital Documents and Signatures.
Some investors complain of long wait times for a decision by the judiciary. While Dominican law mandates overall time standards for the completion of key events in a civil case, these standards frequently are not met. The World Bank’s 2020 “Doing Business” report noted that resolving complaints raised during the award and execution of a contract can take more than four years in the Dominican Republic, although some take longer. Dominican nationals and foreigners alike have the constitutional right to present their cases to an appeal court and to the Supreme Court to review (recurso de casación in Spanish) the ruling of the lower court. If a violation of fundamental rights is alleged, the Constitutional Court might also review the case. Notwithstanding, foreign investors have complained that the local court system is unreliable, is biased against them, and that special interests and powerful individuals are able to use the legal system in their favor. Others that have successfully won in courts, have struggled to get their ruling enforced.
While the law provides for an independent judiciary, businesses and other external groups have noted that in practice, the government does not respect judicial independence or impartiality, and improper influence on judicial decisions is widespread. Several large U.S. firms cite the improper and disruptive use of lower court injunctions as a way for local distributors to obtain more beneficial settlements at the end of contract periods. To engage effectively in the Dominican market, many U.S. companies seek local partners that are well-connected and understand the local business environment.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The legal framework supports foreign investment. Article 221 of the Constitution declares that foreign investment shall receive the same treatment as domestic investment. Foreign Investment Law No. 16-95 states that unlimited foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, with a few exceptions. According to the law, foreign investment is not allowed in the following categories: a) disposal and remains of toxic, dangerous, or radioactive garbage not produced in the country; b) activities affecting the public health and the environmental equilibrium of the country, pursuant to the norms that apply in this regard; and c) production of materials and equipment directly linked to national defense and security, except for an express authorization from the Chief Executive.
The Export and Investment Center of the Dominican Republic (ProDominicana, formally known as CEI-RD) aims to be the one-stop shop for investment information, registration, and investor after-care services. ProDominicana maintains a user-friendly website for guidance on the government’s priority sectors for inward investment and on the range of investment incentives ( https://prodominicana.gob.do ).
In February 2020, the Dominican government enacted the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Law No. 47-20 to establish a regulatory framework for the initiation, selection, award, contracting, execution, monitoring and termination of PPPs in line with the 2030 National Development Strategy of the Dominican Republic. The law also created the General Directorate of Public-Private Partnerships (DGAPP) as the agency responsible for the promotion and regulation of public-private alliances and the National Council of Public-Private Partnerships as the highest body responsible for evaluating and determining the relevance of the PPPs. The PPP law recognizes public-private and public-private non-profit partnerships from public or private initiatives and provides for forty-year concession contracts, five-year exemptions of the tax on the transfer of goods and services (ITBIS), and accelerated depreciation and amortization regimes. The DGAPP website has the most up to date information on PPPs ( https://dgapp.gob.do/en/home/ ).
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The National Commission for the Defense of Competition (ProCompetencia) has the power to review transactions for competition-related concerns. Private sector contacts note, however, that strong public pressure is required for ProCompetencia to act.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Dominican constitution permits the government’s exercise of eminent domain; however, it also mandates fair market compensation in advance of the use of seized land. Nevertheless, there are many outstanding disputes between U.S. investors and the Dominican government concerning unpaid government contracts or expropriated property and businesses. Property claims make up the majority of cases. Most, but not all, expropriations have been used for infrastructure or commercial development. Many claims remain unresolved for years.
Investors and lenders have reported that they typically do not receive prompt payment of fair market value for their losses. They have complained of difficulties in the subsequent enforcement even in cases in which the Dominican courts, including the Supreme Court, have ordered compensation or when the government has recognized a claim. In other cases, some indicate that lengthy delays in compensation payments are blamed on errors committed by government-contracted property assessors, slow processes to correct land title errors, a lack of budgeted funds, and other technical problems. There are also cases of regulatory action that investors say could be viewed as indirect expropriation. For example, they note that government decrees mandating atypical setbacks from roads or establishing new protected areas can deprive investors of their ability to use purchased land in the manner initially planned, substantially affecting the economic benefit sought from the investment.
Many companies report that the procedures to resolve expropriations lack transparency and, to a foreigner, may appear antiquated. Government officials are rarely, if ever, held accountable for failing to pay a recognized claim or failing to pay in a timely manner.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
In 2000, the Dominican Republic signed the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (Washington Convention; however, the Dominican Congress did not ratify the agreement as required by the constitution). In 2001, the Dominican Republic became a contracting state to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). The agreement entered into force by Congressional Resolution No. 178-01.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The Dominican Republic has entered into 11 bilateral investment treaties that are in force, most of which contain dispute resolution provisions that submit the parties to arbitration.
As a signatory to CAFTA-DR, the Dominican Republic is bound by the investment chapter of CAFTA-DR, which submits the Parties to arbitration under either the ICSID or the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) rules. There have been three U.S. investor-state dispute cases filed against the Dominican Republic under CAFTA-DR. One case was settled; in the other two, an arbitration panel found in favor of the government.
Dual nationals of the United States and Dominican Republic should be aware that their status as a Dominican national might interfere with their status as a “foreign” investor if they seek dispute settlement under CAFTA-DR provisions. U.S. citizens who contemplate pursuing Dominican naturalization for the ease of doing business in the Dominican Republic should consult with an attorney about the risks that may be raised by a change in nationality with regard to accessing the dispute settlement protections provided under CAFTA-DR.
According to the Knowyourcountry’s “Dominican Republic: Risk and Compliance Report” from 2018, U.S. investors have had to resort to legal action against the Dominican government and parastatal firms to seek relief regarding payments, expropriations, contractual obligations, or regulatory obligations. Regardless of whether they are located in a free-trade zone, companies have problems with dispute resolution, both with the Dominican government and with private-sector entities. The investors range from large firms to private individuals.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Law 489-08 on commercial arbitration governs the enforcement of arbitration awards, arbitral agreements, and arbitration proceedings in the Dominican Republic. Per law 489-09, arbitration may be ad-hoc or institutional, meaning the parties may either agree on the rules of procedure applicable to their claim, or they may adopt the rules of a particular institution. Fundamental aspects of the United Nations Commission on International Trade (UNCITRAL) model law are incorporated into Law 489-08. In addition, Law 181-09 created an institutional procedure for the Alternative Dispute Resolution Center of the Chamber of Commerce Santo Domingo ( http://www.camarasantodomingo.do/ ).
Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable in the Dominican Republic in accordance with Law 489-09 and applicable treaties, including the New York Convention. U.S. investors complain that the judicial process is slow and that domestic claimants with political connections have an advantage.
Law 141-15 provides the legal framework for bankruptcy. It allows a debtor company to continue to operate for up to five years during reorganization proceedings by halting further legal proceedings. It also authorizes specialized bankruptcy courts; contemplates the appointment of conciliators, verifiers, experts, and employee representatives; allows the debtor to contract for new debt which will have priority status in relation to other secured and unsecured claims; stipulates civil and criminal sanctions for non-compliance; and permits the possibility of coordinating cross-border proceedings based on recommendations of the UNCITRAL Model Law of 1997. In March 2019, a specialized bankruptcy court was established in Santo Domingo.
The Dominican Republic scores lower than the regional average and comparator economies on resolving insolvency on most international indices.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Dominican Constitution guarantees the right to own private property and provides that the state shall promote the acquisition of property, especially titled real property, however, a patchwork history of land titling systems and sometimes violent political change has complicated land titling in the Dominican Republic. By law, all land must be registered, and that which is not registered is considered state land. There are no restrictions or specific regulations on foreigners or non-resident owners of land.
In 2008, the country transitioned to a new system based on GPS coordinates and has been working towards establishing clear titles, but, in March 2021, an industry source estimated that only 25 percent of all land titles were clear. The government advises that investors are ultimately responsible for due diligence and recommends partnering with experienced attorneys to ensure that all documentation, ranging from title searches to surveys, have been properly verified and processed.
Land tenure insecurity has been fueled by government land expropriations, institutional weaknesses, lack of effective law enforcement, and local community support for land invasions and squatting. Political expediency, corruption, and fraud have all been cited as practices that have complicated the issuance of titles or respect for the rights of existing title holders. Moreover, while on the decline, long-standing titling practices, such as issuing provisional titles that are never completed or providing titles to land to multiple owners without requiring individualization of parcels, have created ambiguity in property rights and undermined the reliability of existing records.
The Dominican Republic’s rank for ease of registering property in the 2020 World Bank’s “Doing Business” report improved from 77 to 74 (out of 190 countries). Registering property in the Dominican Republic requires 6 steps, an average of 33 days, and payment of 3.4 percent of the land value as a registration fee. In the last decade, the Dominican government received a $10-million, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan to modernize its property title registration process, address deficiencies and gaps in the land administration system, and strengthen land tenure security. The project involved digitization of land records, decentralization of registries, establishment of a fund to compensate people for title errors, separation of the legal and administrative functions within the agency, and redefinition of the roles and responsibilities of judges and courts.
Mortgages and liens do exist in the Dominican Republic. The Title Registry Office maintains the system for recording titles, as well as a complementary registry of third-party rights, such as mortgages, liens, easements, and encumbrances. Property owners maintain ownership of legally purchased property whether unoccupied or occupied by squatters, however, it can be difficult and costly to enforce private rights against squatters. This may in part be due to a provision in the law known as “adverse possession,” which allows squatters to acquire legal ownership of land without a title (thereby state-owned).
Intellectual Property Rights
The Dominican Republic has strong intellectual property rights (IPR) laws and is meeting its IP obligations under international agreements such as the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Nevertheless, weak institutions and limited enforcement can present challenges for investors. Under the Abinader administration, the country’s posture toward the protection and enforcement of IPR appears to have improved. Still, illicit and counterfeit goods, as well as online and signal piracy, are common and continue to present challenges for authorities. In the Dominican Republic, illicit or counterfeit goods include the full gamut of fashion apparel and accessories, electronics, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, cigarettes, and alcohol.
Several IP authorities in the Dominican Republic grant intellectual property rights. The National Office of Industrial Property (ONAPI) issues trademarks and patents, the National Copyright Office (ONDA) issues copyrights, the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MISPAS) issues sanitary registrations required for marketing foods, pharmaceuticals, and health products, and the Directorate of International Trade (DICOEX) has jurisdiction over the implementation of geographical indications. IPR registration processes have improved in recent years, but delays and questionable adjudication decisions are still common. These institutions are in the process of implementing electronic filing systems to streamline procedures, however.
IPR Enforcement is carried out by the Customs Authority (DGA), the National Police, the National Copyright Office (ONDA), the Dominican Institute of Telecommunications (Indotel), the Special Office of the Attorney General for Matters of Health, and the Special Office of the Attorney General for High Tech Crimes. Although the Dominican government has taken steps that appear to indicate a strengthened posture and commitment to IP enforcement, in practice, the country faced challenges in 2020 that contributed to a net decrease in counterfeit seizures, arrests, and convictions. The government attributed much of this decrease to the pandemic and ensuing safety measures, which hampered enforcement activities for much of the year.
Although the Dominican Republic did not enact any new IP-related laws or regulations in the past year, the Office of the Attorney General launched a new IP Unit in November 2020. This unit plans not only to pursue more IP cases but also to develop an interagency mechanism uniting all the institutions involved in IP prevention and prosecution. As a result, these institutions are expected to collaborate more in enforcement activities and in capacity building efforts. For example, in February 2021, the new IP Unit partnered with ONAPI and ONDA to launch an IP training academy for prosecutors and judges to improve the country’s judicial capacity.
Since 2003, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has designated the Dominican Republic as a Special 301 Watch List country for serious IPR deficiencies. The country, however, is not listed in USTR”s Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.
The Dominican Republic has a legal framework that includes laws and regulations to combat corruption and provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. However, enforcement of existing laws is often ineffective. Individuals and NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well-connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and a public grievance, so much so, that it was a primary political motivation in the 2020 elections, leading to widespread protests. The Dominican Republic’s rank on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index held at 137 in 2020 (out of 180 countries assessed) but indicated that “the election of a new government…raised hopes for the fight against corruption.”
U.S. companies identified corruption as a barrier to FDI and some firms reported being solicited by public officials for bribes. U.S. investors indicate corruption occurs at all phases of investment, not just in public procurement or during the process for awarding tenders or concessions, as is most often alleged. At least one firm said it intended to back out of a competition for a public concession as a result of a solicitation from government officials. U.S. businesses operating in the Dominican Republic often need to take extensive measures to ensure compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In September 2019, the Dominican Supreme Court began a trial against six of the 14 defendants indicted in 2017 for alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by aBrazilian construction company to obtain public works contracts. A 2016 plea agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Brazilian company implicated high-level public officials in the Dominican Republic; the six current defendants include a senator, a lower house representative, a former senator, and a former minister of public works. Civil society welcomed the trial as a step forward in the fight against corruption, but activists highlighted what they perceived as a lack of political will to investigate thoroughly the case, which involved the country’s political and economic elites. U.S. companies also frequently cite the government’s slow response to the Odebrecht scandal as contributing to a culture of perceived impunity for high-level government officials, which fuels widespread acceptance and tolerance of corruption at all levels.
President Abinader has made it clear since his inauguration in August 2020 that fighting corruption will be a top priority of his administration. He appointed officials with reputations for professionalism and independence including a career anti-corruption advocate now serving as head of the Public Procurement General Directorate. In addition, the Abinader administration created the Directorate of Transparency, Prevention, and Control of Public Spending, and implemented other administrative and legislative measures that should increase internal auditing mechanisms.
In November 2020, the Attorney General’s Office detained 11 former officials and alleged front men, including two siblings of former President Danilo Medina, as part of the “Anti-octopus operation.” They are accused of “having used their family connections” to gain privileged access to the public procurement process and, consequently, of having accumulated fortunes illicitly during the past administration. Analysts have suggested that these arrests dealt a blow to the widespread practice of impunity around issues of corruption, particularly where politically connected people and families were involved, and sent a strong warning against such behavior. The arrests also appear to have appeased the demands of civil society, who threatened to protest if arrests did not happen before January 2021. However, it remains to be seen the extent to which the government will prioritize passage of legislative reforms to strengthen rule of law and prevent similar abuses in the future.
Civil society has been a critical voice in anti-corruption campaigns to date. Several non-governmental organizations are particularly active in transparency and anti-corruption, notably the Foundation for Institutionalization and Justice (FINJUS), Citizen Participation (Participacion Ciudadana), and the Dominican Alliance Against Corruption (ADOCCO).
The Dominican Republic signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention. The Dominican Republic is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
Procuraduría Especializada contra la Corrupción Administrativa (PEPCA)
Calle Hipólito Herrera Billini esq. Calle Juan B. Pérez,
Centro de los Heroes, Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
Telephone: (809) 533-3522
Linea 311 (government service for filing complaints and denunciations)
Phone: 311 (from inside the country)