-She was the one politician who mastered the art of heckling; we have lost a great icon-APNU
By: Kiana Wilburg
Executive members of the political opposition coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), expressed their shock and pain at the sudden passing of former Deputy Speaker, Ms. Deborah Jan Backer.
Backer was a fellow politician and Member of Parliament. She served as Deputy Speaker up to the time of her retirement through ill health.
Backer, who served the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R), was described as a fierce politician in the National Assembly for over a decade.
She passed away early yesterday morning.
The Attorney at Law and mother of two was battling an illness for some time.
The news of her death disturbed even the most articulate speakers of the APNU. Each tried to maintain composure during a press conference at the headquarters on Hadfield Street, Georgetown.
On the panel was Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and Deputy Speaker, Basil Williams, Shadow Minister of Finance, Carl Greenidge, Member of Parliament, Jaipaul Sharma and Shadow Minister of Public Works and Telecommunications, Joseph Harmon.
But before venting their feelings, they observed one minute silence in honour of Ms. Backer.
Williams, who is also the Chairman of the PNC/R, said, “It was with profound shock when the Leader of the PNCR, Brig. David Granger called me just around 7 am (yesterday) to indicate that Ms. Deborah Backer had died.
“The PNCR and the APNU have lost a great icon, a freedom fighter, a champion for women’s rights, a soldier for justice and I have lost a sister and a friend. Our sympathy goes out to her children and husband.”
“I wish to state that the untimely passing of our sister and comrade creates an irreplaceable loss to the nation and to the Guyana Bar Association. We shall miss her infectious, good humour, her unflagging commitment and her tireless pursuit of social justice,” said Joseph Harmon.
Unusual for a vociferous parliamentary member, she was admired and respected across the aisle. As she was fond of saying whenever she assumed the Speaker’s chair, ‘I expect that there will be order and silence in the House.”
“This was always greeted with peals of laughter, an acknowledgement of her quick wit which she used to counter heckling and disorder. She made heckling into an art form; sharp though never really personally wounding. The National Assembly has been a duller place in light of her absence. We have lost a Guyanese patriot of great quality,” he added.
Mr. Sharma supported Harmon’s comments.
Greenidge said that he always remembered Backer as the “selfless politician.”
He stressed on her capacity to understand the Standing Orders and her ability to use them in such a crafty yet humorous manner to repel the shady traps of the government.
“She was always quick on her feet. She was a major asset and she was always ready to render assistance to other members to help them perform more effectively. The fact that we would have lost her at such a critical time, reminds us that man appoints but God disappoints.
“We will now have to work doubly to strive to achieve those goals which she tried to achieve.”
While the Leader of the APNU was not present at the conference, on his online page, expressed how saddened he was at the passing of the great politician.
He added, “Backer entered political life during the tenure of the late PNC President Desmond Hoyte. She started out first as a representative of the party on the City Council and progressed to being a Parliamentary representative.
“As an MP for the PNC/R, PNC/R-1G and APNU, Backer covered several important shadow portfolios including Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs and was seen as one of the more active, vocal and effective opposition MPs.”
Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman expressed his heartfelt condolences to the Backer family through a missive that he made public yesterday.
On behalf of the National Assembly, Trotman said that the former Member of Parliament served in various capacities from 1998 to 2014.
“At the time of her resignation in January, she was the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee, member of various Standing and Special Select Committees, and the main Opposition’s spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Public Safety and National Security.
“She has made an indelible mark on the political fabric of Guyana and her monumental contribution in the fight against injustice, inequality, and intolerance will be everlasting.”
The Alliance For Change said that it was saddened at Backer’s passing. The party said that the lives of many have been enriched as a result of her tireless work in the National Assembly, in courtrooms and with organisations to which she was a member.
Also saluting the role played by Ms. Backer was the Women and Gender Equality Commission. The organization also extended sincere condolences to the family and Members of Parliament as well as the legal fraternity. They stressed that she would definitely be remembered as a champion for human rights, especially women’s rights.
President Donald Ramotar expressed condolences to the PNC/R and to the Backer family through his online page.
He described her as “an outstanding and formidable politician.”
Minister of Education, Ms. Priya Manickchand, recalled how she felt after receiving the news. “Guyana has lost a daughter; she was a wife, a mother, a lawyer, a Parliamentarian of long-standing, Deputy Speaker until she resigned a few weeks ago, political activist, and women rights activist, a friend, a colleague, a believer, fierce in argument. I really believe we suffered a loss as a country this morning (yesterday) when she passed.”
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