A couple of events over the past days have brought to the fore two individuals who can be described as the antithesis of one another: head of state, George Vella, and head of school and ADPD colleague, Mario Mallia.

A palpable sense of scorn and outrage was directed at our president who didn’t have the spine to stand for what he professes as his principles.

Instead, he fled for all he was worth, for the safety of Birmingham, in an act of cowardice and puerility, his conscience appeased by the fact that it was his stand-in who signed the IVF law.

No wonder many are questioning the hefty pay cheque we taxpayers have to churn out (around €66,000 plus perks) for someone who does precious little and stands for absolutely nothing. Not that we had any doubt, of course.

His track record in supporting the Labour government’s obscenities and corruption in parliament are well-documented and no amount of crocodile tears or talk of “national unity” will change that.

On the other hand, we have Mario, an experienced educator who was at the helm of St Albert the Great for the past 16 years.

He not only stood by his principles – empathy, acceptance and love – but fought for them and, ultimately, paid the price for what seems to be a show of force by people who should have known better but instead caved into other interests when push came to shove.

In fact, this so-called board which fired him appeared determined to dim the bright light which Mario is and discredit his achievements.

Instead, his work, acts and every single word he has uttered so far have been positively received in all quarters. His brainchild, MEET, introduced to enhance the prospects of inclusivity for students with different backgrounds, religions and abilities, was the bone of contention.

A religious order appointing a professional educator with experience and a warrant ought to support foresight and professionalism. While it is in order to seek explanations, surely the track record of 16 years’ hard work at the helm are glaringly obvious.

From my own personal experience, having formed part of the teaching profession for the past 20 years, never have I witnessed such an outpouring of love, emotion, solidarity and respect towards a headmaster. Usually, it’s more a question of good riddance, with teachers secretly celebrating in their staff rooms at the departure of the umpteenth useless trophy headmaster.

This country can do without leaders in George Vella’s mould but desperately needs others like Mario Mallia- Sandra Gauci

Mario is no such thing. He put in the hours with energy and professionalism and put students and staff first.

And it shows!

Principles in Malta have steadily been losing their appeal but, in this ocean of spinelessness, it seems people are craving some sort of hero, a personality or character who stands for something. In a country run by stooges and moving on cronyism, no wonder people hail Mario.

As populism and party loyalty are shown up for what they are, far too many individuals in leadership positions resort to lip service and pretend to stand up for cherished values and principles.

When the going gets tough, they conveniently ebb away like Vella has done, leaving others to pick up the cudgels.

This country can do without leaders in Vella’s mould but desperately needs others like Mallia who stand up for what is right and for the common good rather their own self-preservation.

As the economic situation will inevitably worsen in the months ahead, Malta will require true statesmen in government who are able to take the right decisions in the face of adversity.

Given Labour’s track record of shooting from the hip in a bid to retain its grip on power, the prospects are indeed bleak.

If Vella, a so-called veteran, is unable to stand up and be counted, God help us if our salvation depends on the nincompoops in cabinet.

Thankfully, Mario’s case has provided a timely lesson to us all and has shown us that one doesn’t need to be populist to be popular;  just be consistent, trustworthy, upright and adhering to principles.

Admiration and esteem ultimately do not come from being populist but being perceived to have done the right thing at the right time with the benefit of hindsight.

You might make some enemies along the way but, as we are seeing, you might gain a ton of respect from the people that matter.

Sandra Gauci is deputy chairperson of ADPD.

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