A government department has spent £18m for consultants' advice on reforming Northern Ireland's water system.
Plans to reform the Water Service have proved controversial
The Department of Regional Development figure was revealed after a question from South Down MP Eddie McGrady.
He said he was "flabbergasted", especially since the civil service had already proposed the changes.
"Have we a civil service capable of doing their own job or are we paying through the nose for consultants to do everything for us," he said.
The DRD said getting the structures right was "necessary" and that if they got it wrong it could cost consumers more.
It said the reforms would free up £300m by the end of the decade for health, education and transport and that no comparable reform agenda had taken place without substantial consultancy support.
"Government appreciates that consultancy figures seem high but the overall expenditure on these services is enormous - hundreds of millions of pounds per annum in running costs and billions of pounds of investment," the statement said.
Consultancy fees incurred by the Water Reform Unit and the Water Service for the reform of water and sewerage services was £4,287,436 between 2001-02 and 2005-06.
The forecast for 2006-07 is £12,515,000 and for 2007-08 it is £1,400,000.
Under planned reforms the Water Service is to become a Government Owned Company, or GoCo and become self financing.
It will mean the introduction of water charges in Northern Ireland in 2007.