Civil servants are rarely loved, but they are also indispensable. As a colonial legacy, they have traditionally enjoyed better pay and greater prestige than most of their overseas peers. But the new reality is that they have become less like mandarins, and more like servants to the public. As our political system makes the transition towards full democracy, that trend will only be accentuated. Many career servants will have difficulties adjusting to their new roles. It is, therefore, all the more challenging for the civil service to retain and attract talent, and to maintain its attraction as an employer. But fewer benefits and less political influence are now the norm for civil servants, according to the latest Public Service Commission report, which has raised alarms about declining morale within their ranks and a possible mass exodus to the private sector. Such negative factors are, without doubt, perceived as such by many civil servants. But realistically, their job conditions and security still trump those of most private-sector jobs, especially during an economic downturn. The report by the statutory watchdog says the accountability system has been a contributing factor to the malaise. Certainly the system - introduced in 2002 and expanded under Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - has proved to be dysfunctional in many ways. Political appointees now take over top policymaking posts once reserved for senior civil servants. Yet they do not have a strong mandate from the public. When policies they have formulated fail or prove unpopular, public opprobrium often - sometimes unfairly - falls on the civil service, leading to questions about its integrity, quality and responsibility. This helps breed a corrosive cynicism about civil servants. Certainly, we need a government that is transparent and accountable, but the political system put in place is a superficial construct, which can only be reformed by making it fully democratic. The government needs a strong mandate to function properly; our civil service needs the credibility it deserves to serve the public effectively.