Is UEPS’ CEO Touting a Sham PhD Degree?

  • Major questions loom about the integrity of UEPS’ CEO’s Ph.D. degree, which seems to have come from a “distance learning” University that has since disappeared
  • This comes after other research reports called out questionable statements the CEO has made about his company’s highly scrutinized business practices

 

UEPS has been a company under much controversy – the next question QTR wants to raise is whether or not the CEO’s PhD (with which he’s used to identify himself in numerous filings) is a sham. The company’s CEO and Chairman appears to have a Ph.D. from an offshore “distance learning” diploma mill which was exposed in a January 16th Webb-Site article and that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

But first, a little background…

Some of the more alarming items to be called into question about UEPS have been statements that the company’s CEO has made publicly. Mr. Jay Yoon, in a couple of his Seeking Alpha articles, points out that the CEO seems to have made statements on the public record that did not reconcile with what the company says in its filings.

Specifically, he calls out statements made in a 2013 interview to a South African news channel where he believes the CEO misconstrues the fees that are charged to beneficiaries that participate in the company’s microloan program. The CEO claims these are “interest free” loans, when in fact beneficiaries are charged “service fees” in lieu of interest, Mr. Yoon points out.

He also takes exception with a 2014 CNBC South Africa interview where CEO Belamant talks about the state of the company’s Zazoo (mobile prepayments) business. Mr. Yoon alleges that the CEO is being disingenuous about his statements, leading his audience to believe that Zazoo’s business growth is organic, where in reality it is a product of the beneficiaries that the company services in South Africa.

Finally, the CEO claimed in an interview that “[income the company generates outside of South Africa] is closer to 65% to 70%.”  This is then debunked by Mr. Yoon pointing out that about 26-27% of revenue came from outside of South Africa in both 2014 and 2015.

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This has led many to wonder about the credibility of the company, including QTR.

I wanted to look further into the company’s CEO and Chairman, Mr. Serge C.P. Belamant. What I found is that his Ph.D. degree seems to have been challenged by an experienced professional who focuses on corporate governance in Hong Kong.

In UEPS’ 10-K, it says that:

“Dr. Belamant holds a PhD in Information Technology and Management.”

However, it doesn’t illustrate which university/college Mr. Belamant received his doctorate degree from. In an electronic book named “The Madison Who’s Who Among Executives and Professionals, 2011 Edition”, on page 327, it shows that Mr. Serge C.P. Belamant holds a Ph.D. in Information Technology & Management from “Burkes University”.

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I was having trouble finding information on Burkes University, but I did find a website called “Webb-Site”, which according to its own description:

“was established in 1998 by David M. Webb, a former investment banker who has lived in Hong Kong since 1991. Webb-site Reports provides reports and independent opinions with a focus on Hong Kong affairs, including but not limited to corporate and economic governance, business, finance, investment, legal and regulatory affairs. Webb-site also hosts Webb-site Who’s Who, an extensive database on companies, other organisations and people in Hong Kong and elsewhere, sourced from the public domain.

Webb-site is run on a not-for-profit basis, principally funded by its founder, via Fundamental Consultants Limited (fc.com), which he chairs. That company also provides his services for occasional commercial speaking engagements, although this only makes a small contribution to the costs of running Webb-site.”

Recently, Webb-Site published an article challenging the doctorate degree that had been granted from Burkes University to other executives. While investigating someone else who claimed to have a Ph.D. from “Burkes University”, this article claims that “There has never been a Burkes University in the UK”. An article published on January 16th, 2016 says:

There has never been a “Burkes University” in the UK, nor a university for berks. Perhaps the operators of this outfit were inspired by Burke’s Peerage, the book of British toffs. However, there was an entity claiming to operate from the Turks and Caicos Islands (T&C), a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean with a resident population small enough to fit into Hong Kong Stadium. “Burkes University” once had a web site, captured in the Internet Archive starting 16-Dec-2002, claiming that it was founded in the T&C in 1977 and was a “State-Approved Open and Distance Learning University”. The “Chancellor” was a “Prof. Dr. Solomon Heineken“, who probably doesn’t exist but we’ll buy him a beer if he does.

The T&C companies registry is not online so we have been unable to check whether a company by that name ever existed. According to Section 3(2) of the Universities and Colleges Ordinance of the T&C, 1998 edition, no institution shall operate as a university in T&C without a license issued by the Minister of Education. Under Section 4(2), anyone who claims to have received a degree from such an institution while it was unlicensed is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for 6 months, if they happen to visit the T&C, one presumes. Looking at the web archive, we cannot find any claim on the site that “Burkes University” had such a license.

On the web site, “Burkes University” also claimed to be accredited by the “Association of Open and Distance Education”. You guessed it – that too has a defunct web site, the earliest capture in the Internet Archive is on 20-Dec-2003. The last capture is on 31-Aug-2004. We cannot find any other trace of it.

So who else holds a doctorate from “Burkes University”? Well, there’s “Dr” Lo Kou Hong, Co-Chairman and founder of Lo’s Enviro-Pro Holdings Ltd, now known as Xinhua News Media Holdings Ltd(0309) who claims to have been awarded an honorary doctorate degree in Business Management in 2003 by Burkes University, the same year as Mr Cheng. There is also “Dr” Angela Ng Wai Yung, a senior manager of Neway Group Holdings Ltd (0055) and wife of the founder. The 2014 annual report claims that she has an “Honorary doctor of philosophy degree in Business Management from Burkes University, the British West Indies, United Kingdom”. She too has been claiming that since 2003.

There are also a handful of Burkes’ Honorary Doctors in India – you know who you are. Take them off your web site before we identify you.”

Given the extensive experience that Mr. Webb seems to have in this field, I thought there may be reason for me to question the integrity of Mr. Belamant’s doctorate degree from “Burkes University”.

This is the website I was able to find using the Wayback Machine for Burkes University from 2002.

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There were Wayback entries for the website up through 2011, where the “university” was then titled “Burkes University Club”. A description from the last archived website is confusing, illegible, and riddled with spelling errors and sales pitches. Here’s a look:

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One thing is for sure to me; this doesn’t seem like any type of learning institution with any focus on the quality of the content they produce. Additionally, the website used doesn’t seem to exist any longer and I had trouble finding additional records for Burkes University.

  • I do not know if this could have been some type of honorary degree or whether or not studies were actually performed in order to receive this “degree”.
  • I would like the company to weigh in on this issue and put to rest the origins of the CEO’s Ph.D. designation, his areas of study, any papers produced and published as a result of his work, and the means which he achieved this degree.

If the company would like to weigh in on this, we would love to hear their explanation. Otherwise, I’ll leave this question for a readers to answer: can this company and it’s CEO be trusted in the meantime?